Between January, 1973 and December, 1974 America experienced its worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. The stock market had lost 45 percent of its value, inflation rose from 3 percent to more than 12 percent and the Arab OPEC countries instituted an oil embargo to punish the West for its support of Israel. It was hard times but I managed to scrape up enough funds to return to Brigham Young University. I had to return because my graduation diploma was being held hostage by the religion department for a less than one semester credit.
A month before my return to the Y though, the Lord’s university began ferreting out and expelling all the gay students they could lay their hands on. Known as the “Purge of ’75,” BYU security officers interrogated students majoring in fine arts, drama and dance, and placed electronic recording devices on decoy students. Security operatives took recorded plate numbers of cars parked outside of Salt Lake City’s gay bars. At least five gay students committed suicide.
BYU’s president, Dallin Oaks, in a Salt Lake Tribune article admitted that electronic recording devices had been planted on students without bona fide search warrants. When he was asked if there was a widespread campaign to find homosexuals on his campus, Oaks replied, “Two influences we wish to exclude from the BYU community are active homosexuals and drug users, and these subjects are therefore among those with which our security forces are concerned.”
Unwittingly I arrived on campus shortly after this first purge of homosexuals and yes I finally graduated in the spring of 1975; BYU’s centennial year. Afterward, because of the economy, I quickly realized that a history degree and a quarter would buy me a cup of coffee. So I decided to stay in school and equip myself with an education degree.
In 1975 our involvement in the Vietnam war ended. Ted Bundy was on a heterosexual killing spree from Idaho to Colorado while living in Salt Lake City; and Oliver Sipple, a gay man, saved President Gerald Ford from an assassination attempt by a follower of Charles Manson. I was in school, immersed in pedagogical practices. Everything was going swimmingly for me until I became careless and fell in love.
By March 1976 I had outgrown any enthusiasm I ever had for the Y. I was nearly 25, and so very weary of BYU. So I was exceptionally careful until I met Larry.
I became careless because I was lonely. Many of my younger college friends had gone on to serve missions, and those my age had either graduated or married. My feeling of isolation there was palpable but I tried my best to concentrate on getting certified as a history teacher. I had almost finished my certification when I tripped up.
How Larry and I met is inconsequential but after an initial encounter, he asked if I would see him again. I said yes and this response led to the ruin of my career at BYU and nearly ended Larry’s life. Unbeknown to Larry and me, the powers at BYU were gearing up for another purge; this time in correlation with Utah County law enforcement.
In early spring, deeply in love, Larry and I met out on country farm roads off campus for our forbidden trysts. We knew we had to be careful with our secret romance. We were incredibly fearful of being caught by BYU spies.
Having been more active in the gay underground than I, Larry told of BYU’s security forces spying on students suspected of being gay. He told of the use electronic bugs to spy on him and his friends, both on and off campus. He related how gays would turn in other gays as a way of showing repentance; and those who wished to remain were subjected to aversion therapy. Beginning in the 1960s the psychology department at the Y had experimented with electroshock aversion therapy in an attempt to cure homosexuality. Those who went through the program were shown gay pornography and when these mad scientists sensed an arousal on the part of the victim, an electrical shock jolted them. Perhaps I was living in a fool’s paradise and should have seen the warning signs, but I didn’t until it was too late. In March 1976 I learned of a series of arrests at the notorious Pleasant Grove rest stops on I-15. Fourteen men were arrested for sodomy and lewdness. One, a 54-year-old music teacher, even committed suicide.
“There were so many of them out there Friday night it was like fish packed in a barrel,” a sheriff’s deputy said. Officers documented more than 100 men “engaged in homosexual activity there.” The lawmen turned arrest records of any students over to BYU’s standards office.
After reading of the arrests on the front page of the Daily Universe, I worried whether security had my name in their files. However, I felt pretty confident since only Larry knew of our relationship. I wanted to talk to Larry and see if he was OK but I didn’t dare because he thought his phone was being tapped.
On a gloomy, snowy day soon after that, Larry came to my apartment. He said, “Ben I’m not going to make it.”
He said that he had been one of the men picked up at the Pleasant Grove rest stop and turned into security. He also told me that he had swallowed a whole bottle of aspirin. My first reaction was not to believe it. He wouldn’t actually commit suicide – this man I loved. I started to cry but then pulled myself together to seize the situation. He would not let me call Utah Valley Hospital and struggled to leave when he thought I would. I was frantic. It didn’t seem real; like a fantasy but it was too real. Finally I managed to convince him to walk with me outside, hoping this would keep him awake. We walked about a mile in the blowing snow. I didn’t know what to do and I felt so helpless.
As he was getting weaker, Larry said he wanted to die up in the canyon and asked if I would drive him. I agreed. When he became sleepy and could no longer resist I rushed him back down to the hospital. I told admittance that he had accidentally overdosed on aspirin. Larry started to get violently sick. His ears were ringing, stomach cramping, and eyes dilating. They promptly gave him ipecac to throw up. For two hours he heaved blood while I paced outside. My mind was in a daze. Because he had vomited so much blood and had absorbed too much aspirin, Larry was kept overnight.
No one came to see Larry while in the hospital except BYU security and a BYU psychiatrist. No friends, no bishop or elder quorum president. Even though there was nothing more I could do, Larry’s nurse asked me to stay by his side. I wiped the sweat from his burning forehead as the aspirin burned through his system. I stayed until they made me leave.
Leaving the hospital, I felt trapped. I felt despair. I felt alone. I was alone.