April 1969 began with the nation still mourning the death of former President Dwight D. Eisenhower on March 28. His death signaled the close of one era — the 1940s and 50s — and truly the beginning of another. The baby boomers, born after World War Two, were now pre-teens, teens, and college students by the millions, and they were exploding onto the social scene and dominating it by the sheer weight of their numbers.
At the start of that month I was still in high school, a senior with a dark secret. I was in love with a boy, and while this was terrifying, it was also exhilarating. It was my secret love; a love, as Lord Alfred Douglas had written, that dared not speak its name. But as another poet, Bob Dylan, had said to my generation: “the times they are a-changing.”
One early April morning my AM radio alarm clock clicked on. As I lay there, deciding whether to deal with the bulge between my legs or get up, I heard the strangely haunting melody of a new song:
When the moon is in the Seventh House
And Jupiter aligns with Mars
Then peace will guide the planets
And love will steer the stars
This is the dawning of the Age of Aquarius
The Age of Aquarius!
I immediately sat up and jumped out of bed dancing. The 5th Dimension’s clarion call was a euphony as well as an epiphany to me. The stars were aligning to usher in love, peace and happiness. And my happiness was a boy named John Cunningham.
The stars declared to me that even though I would have to register for the draft on my 8th birthday; even though President Nixon was proposing a national lottery for the draft; even though my school counselor said I was too stupid for college and I should join the service before I was drafted, it was the Age of Aquarius!
Across the nation others must have heard the Sufi call of the Age of Aquarius, too; that month. people were on the move demanding equality for all and an end to war.
A world a way from me, at City College in New York City, an organization called “Homosexuals Intransigent!” was being chartered. It was founded on April 1 by a young man named Craig Schoonmaker who wrote in his newsletter Homosexual Renaissance: “most groups in the homosexual civil rights movement call themselves homophile organizations. We think the word homophile is a stupid, cowardly euphemism — and one uses euphemisms only when there is something wrong with the ordinary word. We see nothing wrong with the word homosexual. Intransigent on certain points, there can be no compromise. Homosexuals must demand their rights undiluted. We must be militant: intransigent.”
A week later on April 9, over three hundred Harvard University anti-war students, mostly members of the Students for a Democratic Society, seized the university’s administration building in Cambridge, Mass. About 400 state troopers and police officers cleared them out with tear gas and bloody beatings.
The same day on the West Coast, a group called Committee for Homosexual Freedom was formed in San Francisco by Leo Laurence and Gale Whittington. This gay rights group was made up mostly of Haight Ashbury hippie-radicals who were tired of being hassled “by the man.” The fledgling group’s main purpose was stated as ending the firing of people simply for being gay. “A man’s performance on his job should be the only criterion for his continued employment;” they contended.
While many of the nation’s universities were seething volatile settings for social discontentment, at the University of California at Los Angeles, a man named Steve Crocker came up with a novel concept called the “Network Working Group Request for Comment.” April 7 is recognized as the symbolic birth date of the internet, which began with Crocker’s publication of RFC 1. Where would gay people be without the internet?
While progressives in California were dreaming up ways for computers to speak to each other, the Lord’s University in Provo was pondering the weighty matter of male facial hair. Realizing that they had not adopted an official policy about facial hair, BYU released a publication called “The Standards Office is Your Friend” on April 10. The following day an ad hoc Dress Standards Committee reaffirmed that “beards that are neat and well-trimmed are acceptable” at the university. Sending the decision on to the school’s Board of Trustees, the board ruled the following month that readmission to the university could not be based “solely on beards or long hair.” Elder Delbert L. Stapley, chair of the executive committee, reminded BYU President Earnest Wilkinson that “a positive position should be taken” instead of threatening students with expulsion. This policy of allowing males to sport beards would soon be annulled by hardliners worried about the school’s wholesome image.
While BYU struggled with facial hair, the rest of America struggled with social unrest that was fermenting over the rising casualties and unpopularity of the Vietnam War; the militancy of Civil Rights movement after the death of Martin Luther King, Jr. in April 1968; the growing poverty in America; and the dissolution of Lyndon B. Johnson’s vision of a Great Society. However, in Utah things went on as they ever did.
At April General Conference 1969, LDS church leaders expounded on race relations, sexual iniquity and the importance of families. On the Negro Question they said the same old same old, “We feel nothing but love, compassion, and the deepest appreciation for the rich talents, endowments, and the earnest strivings of our Negro brothers and sisters…” while denying them access to Temple endowments and Celestial Marriages.
John Bircher Ezra Taft Benson spoke on the need to have big families, saying: “The first commandment given to man was to multiply and replenish the earth with children. That commandment has never been altered, modified, or canceled.” And 95-year-old church President David O. McKay declared, “Except in cases of infidelity or other extreme conditions, the Church frowns upon divorce,” as the real threat to marriage.
The most disturbing Mormon comments on society in 1969 came from a book written by Spencer W. Kimball entitled The Miracle of Forgiveness. In a chapter called “The Crime Against Nature,” Kimball claimed that masturbation led to homosexuality, which in turn, led to bestiality. This book’s impact would not have been much if Kimball had not ascended to the Mormon First Presidency in 1973. His position added a special legitimacy to its silly assertions.
Finally, there was a glimmer of hope that things could change even in Utah. In 1960, a birth control pill for women was FDA approved. By 1963, 1.2 million women were using it. This in turn spawned the feminist movement and contributed to the sexual revolution of the 196’s. Nine years after the Pill was introduced, the Mormon First Presidency made for the first time an official statement about the use of birth control in general. On 14 April, 1969 they said the use of birth control was a “personal decision.” But not leaving well enough alone, they had to add, “we believe that those who practice birth control will reap disappointment by and by.”
Still, the message was that you can have sex without the intention of procreating and that was progress. So perhaps even in Utah it was the dawning of the Age of Aquarius.