Lambda Lore

Lambda Lore: Lessons learned at BYU

My career at Brigham Young University lasted three years, from 1973 until 1976. It’s hard to believe that I lasted that long. My experience there was schizophrenic at best. On the one hand, I loved the friends I met, but on the other, I detested the institutionalized brutality that the university inflicted on homosexuals. I had never attended a school that intentionally institutionalized a program of persecution of homosexuals. At the Lord’s University I was seen as part of a contagious infection to be eradicated.

OK, I know I willingly signed BYU’s Honor Code, agreeing that I would keep the Word of Wisdom and be “morally clean.” In my extreme naivety, I signed it. I truly thought “morally clean” meant living an ethical life. My family had never equated sexuality with being moral. Being a moral person was simply being an honest person and I honestly did not believe I was a homosexual.

If I had even an inkling of the barbarism which the school’s authorities inflicted on gays at the Y, I would have fled. But I didn’t. I couldn’t have possibly known that my church leaders would conspire to harangue and deny me basic dignity because of my sexual orientation. But then, in 1973 even African-Americans were viewed as cursed by God.

A month prior to my setting foot on campus, the newly appointed president of BYU, Dallin Oaks, had asked the trustees to define “a clearer policy on homosexuals.” Oaks was flummoxed on how to deal with students or personnel who had “homosexual desires” but were not “overtly homosexual.” He could have been asking how to deal with me. In February 1973 the church answered with a pamphlet for LDS Social Services called “Homosexuality: Welfare Services.” The church said that “an essential part of repentance” was to disclose to authorities the names of other homosexuals, in order to help save others.”

Oaks predecessor, Ernie Wilkinson, had no same quandary, for in 1959 he had been summoned by the Church Board of Education who told him of their concerns about “the growing problem” of homosexuality. Shortly after this meeting Wilkinson authorized electroshock “aversion therapy” as a cure (or perhaps a punishment) for homosexuality. Wilkinson’s position was clear about homos at the Y, “We do not want others on this campus to be contaminated with your presence.”

Upon arrival at BYU, I was able to find lodging at Heleman Halls. This was my first experience of living in an all-male environment. It was heaven and hell.

In 1973, I had a special friend in the dorms who for some reason wanted to wrestle me all the time. Even though I had three years on him, and was taller, he always managed to pin me down. Elbert Peck, a future editor of Sunstone Magazine, would often stand over me, while pinned to the carpet, giving me a disapproving “tsk! tsk!” Peck and I became good friends as we worked on a newsletter together. He was a very lovable eccentric fellow.

I have nothing but fond memories of the boys of Heleman Hall; the steamy group showers on cold winter nights followed by evening prayers. I somehow managed to keep my libido in check even though BYU had a highly charged sexual atmosphere. The male companionship I experienced in the dorms filled a homo-“emotional” need I had; which was a need more important to me than any homo-“sexual” one.

My first year at BYU truly was a “trip” as they said in the 70s. It was like falling down the rabbit hole. Everything was “curiouser and curiouser!” I kept bumping into and violating one rule after another, quite unintentionally I assure you.

BYU was a hard place to be a closeted gay boy. Heterosexuality was shoved into one’s face constantly, and the youthful sexual tension of 20,000 horny kids was almost too much to bear.

In the summer of 1973 I met a kid at the Stephen L. Richards building men’s sauna, who followed me home. Now I couldn’t tell you how we ended grappling on my bed but I can tell you that after he left, I was filled with anguish and despair. I had given in to my hidden nature and felt so unworthy. I took a razor blade and sliced my wrist hoping that the shedding of my blood would redeem me. It didn’t. After realizing what I had done was stupid, I cried myself into a stupor. I felt so alone. Talking to anyone would have gotten me expelled.

Aside from that one crisis in 1973, I tried to be good eunuch; that is until spring of 1974 when I met beautiful John Waggoner. His looks were stunning. John and I worked as soda jerks in the Cougareat, and often BYU coeds would bring him flowers. Later John and I, in a rare and potentially dangerous moment, confided in each other that we had “tendencies.” The revelation cemented our friendship.

One day, John was desperate to go to Salt Lake City to a bar called The Sun. John’s dazzling smile could convince anyone to do anything so I told him that I would take him but not go in with him. I was trying hard to avoid temptations. At the time the bar was located on 4th South and South Temple across from the decrepit Union Pacific building in a very seedy part of town.

At the appointed time I agreed to pick him up, there was no John. After a half-hour of waiting I steeled my nerve and walked into the bar to search for him. The place was packed. There was dance music blaring, colored lights flashing, and shirtless boys gyrating, but no John. I returned to the Y without him and that was my one and only time in a Salt Lake gay bar during the 1970s.

The summer of 1974 I was preparing to graduate. My last class was a Doctrine and Covenant Religion course taught by associate professor Rodney Turner, a very bizarre man. I only mention Turner because I was presumptuous enough to question his belief that resurrected beings wouldn’t eat meat. I should have kept my mouth shut.

But I digress. John Waggoner became seriously ill that summer. I rushed him to Holy Cross Hospital in Salt Lake City where he was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. I spent the rest of the summer either at his side or chauffeuring his mother who had flown in from West Virginia. Attending my D & C class was the last thing on my mind.

I was cleared for graduation in August 1974. My gentile parents came up from California for the proud moment. I shook hands with Elder LeGrand Richards. Elder Thomas Monson was the speaker. My parents beamed.

Two weeks after commencement, I discovered that Turner had failed me for missing too much of his class, even though I “aced” his tests. I was found wanting by ½ point and thus had not graduated. I pleaded with Turner, who refused to even give me a D-minus so I could at least graduate. I pleaded with the Dean of the Religion department to no avail. I was crushed.

I left for home, broke, degree-less, and facing unemployment in the Great Recession of 1974. I was being punished for having failed to learn the lesson taught to me at the Y; that obedience to authority was more important than good deeds.

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