Lambda Lore

Lambda Lore: The record of queer Utah

I have often been called the “unofficial historian” of Utah’s queer community. While I am flattered by the moniker I want my readers to know I take the responsibility seriously. However, I am probably more an archivist or keeper of chronologies then a historian, since I have not ever had time to write a book, in spite of all the prompting by Jim Dabakis.

How I started out becoming a historian for the community is fairly simple. I graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Social Studies with a major in history and a minor in political science. It’s a relatively useless degree, but in the early 1970s college was viewed as not so much as a career maker but more as a source of liberal education. It also kept me out of Vietnam. As a friend remarked, “I’d rather tote a book than a gun.” While I have had employment using my research skills, history has been more of a hobby for me. I am very much an amateur.

When I came out as a gay man in 1986 I was already a recorder. I had kept a diary or journal since 1968 when I was 16 years old. While I kept most of my gay experiences in the closet and out of my journals, in 1986 I chose to be more explicit and record the life of a gay man in Salt Lake City in the mid 1980s during the AIDS health crisis. I actually thought I would die of the gay plague sometime during that time and had the notion it was important to record my thoughts.

When I came out of the closet as a 34-year-old man I had no time to waste, and I emerged like Athena from the head of Zeus, fully armed and ready to battle. The formation of the Restoration Church of Jesus Christ and the establishment of Wasatch Affirmation were recorded in my journal as well as conversations and dates. I soon became a community activist and founded Unconditional Support for Gays and Lesbians, became an early member of the Gay and Lesbian Community Council of Utah, and a co-host of Concerning Gays and Lesbians on KRCL with Becky Moss. I met with the presidents of the Lesbian and Gay Student Union at the University of Utah, went on the 1987 March on Washington, created Beyond Stonewall, a mountain retreat in the Soapstone basin, and formed the Delta Institute which was an umbrella 501(c)3 organization for Gay Fathers, Utah’s Gay and Lesbian Youth Group and other groups. I was friends with David Sharpton who founded the People With AIDS Foundation, Patty Reagan and Ben Barr who built the Utah AIDS Foundation. In 1989 I founded the Sacred Faeries, Salt Lake’s branch of the Radical Faerie movement. In 1991 with others I founded The Pillar, a gay newspaper.

Now, I mention all this because within my journals are the conversations and notes and dates of much of the community building of Salt Lake City. Hundreds of the pioneer gay and lesbian leaders from a generation ago are mentioned in my records, warts and all.

In 1991 I took my personal collection of records to the Utah Stonewall Center on behalf of Bobbie Smith who founded the Stonewall Library. He wanted to include an archive in the center and gave me two file cabinets to fill. Over the next six years the Utah Stonewall Archives amassed a considerable collection of first-edition books, a complete set of The Ladder which was a lesbian newspaper from the 1950s and ’60s, an almost complete set of The Advocates from 1970 onward, articles of incorporation for various community organizations. My pride however was a complete set of almost every newspaper printed for the gay community since 1975. We also had artifacts, coffee mugs, pro-gay buttons, bumper stickers and T-shirts dating back to the Anita Bryant Protest. We had copies of all Pride Day posters including the original Day in the Park Basket Social from 1984.

In 1997, the archives were closed without my input. Records were trashed, things boxed up, including some personal items I was working on as archivist. They were stored for years in storage units. I no longer had access to the archives. I was devastated but decided to recreate them as much as I could and store the material on my hard drive where it could not be taken away. I spent countless hours retrieving every newspaper article from the Deseret News and Salt Lake Tribune that I could. The Deseret News online articles only went to 1988 and Salt Lake Tribune to 1991. To get before these dates I had to spend my life looking at microfilm which is not indexed at the Deseret News and Salt Lake Tribune only back to the 1950s. Before that I had to look year by year.

In 2001 Jay Bell, a gay historian for Affirmation, contacted the Gay and Lesbian Community Center who now had custody of the old Utah Stonewall archives. He had the board agree to let him retrieve the material and donate it to the University of Utah. Jay asked if I would go with him to sort through the boxes and retrieve them. So, one hot day in July we went in Jay’s station wagon and loaded up 36 boxes of material that was saved from Stonewall. After five years, I was finally able to retrieve some of my personal belongings. I was dismayed that so much of the magazine portion of the archives was gone as well as the bound collection of The Ladder.

In the past 10 years, the Marriot Library has been able to itemize and archive much of the old Stonewall Center’s collection. Acquisition information states that there is nearly 28 lineal feet of material in the collection and it was a gift of Ben Williams in 2001. I am grateful for Karen Carver and Jeri Foster who, in 2007 and 2008, processed all this material into 54 boxes with files.

Now on my hard drive I have put into a 12-month format my chronologies for easier access. I have put a daily chronology on Facebook under the title Utah Stonewall Historical Society and with the help of Kyle Foote I hope to have a web page up for anyone to use.

In 2004 Michael Aaron asked if I would write a history column that I called Lambda Lore. The Lambda was an early symbol for the gay rights movement. Since then I have written more than 150 columns documenting my take on Utah’s Queer history.

Perhaps one of these days I will get around to writing that book.

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One Comment

  1. Ben, I hope you do write that book. Too many people have short memories and tend to date LGBTQ history to coincide with their involvement–I've been guilty myself; since I've been involved for 20 years that must be our history. 🙂 But I do know better. The Kitchen and Evans cases are just the work of the moment. Just as the East High Gay/Straight club, as well as the Wendy Weaver case, was the history of that moment. We all got here by standing on the shoulders someone else. We must never forget it.

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