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Ted Wilson

by Connell O-Donovan

I first met Ted Wilson in late 1986, just over a year after I had finally come out. I was in and out of Mormonism, trying to find my place, and in one last-ditch effort to save my childhood faith, I began attending the Emigration 2nd Ward for single adults in the Avenues. Ted, having been Salt Lake’s mayor and was then running for governor, was First Counselor in the Ward’s bishopric. Although out to family and some friends, I only came out to less than a handful of people in the Ward initially. There, I was asked to be one of three Gospel Doctrine Sunday School teachers, and I loved that job! I met with Ted on that basis several times and really came to love and appreciate him.

But then, in February 1987, my soul bursting to be free, I came out to the entire Ward during a Fast and Testimony meeting. I think Ted just about fell out of his chair! And thus began my journey out of that church. By June, Bishop Ross Kendall (then president of Key Bank Utah) informed me that there would be a Bishop’s Court held for me on June 23rd to determine what punishment I would receive (which might include facing a Stake High Council Court for excommunication). The falsely named “court of love” was, in fact, a living horror. I met with the Bishop, Ted, and the other counselor, Rhees Ririe. It was a humiliating, soul-searing experience. I distinctly remember Ted warning me that he was deeply concerned with my “messianic pretensions” because, in my self-righteous zeal, I felt I had a deep moral duty to cleanse the church and all of society of homophobia (something I still feel very strongly about, “messianic” or not).

An hour after the end of the trial, the Bishopric let me know that I was on “probation.” Not quite in full membership, but not quite disfellowshipped either. They gave me a list of ten demands about how to comport myself over the next six months, and then there would be a review. Number 3 was the one that really stuck in my craw: “Avoid unnecessary notoriety about your homosexuality with Ward members and any others.” In other words, stay in the closet. I stuck it out until early December 1987, and then I finally left Mormonism behind for good.

Nineteen years later, in January 2007, Ted tracked me down in Santa Cruz, Calif., and sent me a lovely email. I had published an article about my leaving the LDS Church called “Losing My Religion,” which recounted some of this same story, including Ted’s involvement in my trial. He congratulated me warmly for writing such a “very sensitive and thoughtful piece,” and then actually apologized to me! He asked for forgiveness “for any unfairness or difficulty I was responsible for during those trying days. It was a hard time for the Bishopric. The Church pretty well set the template for the kind of insensitivity you experienced. Ross, Rhees, and I struggled more than you could have believed with the trap — that no matter what the value of the Gay person, the only answer was some sort of church discipline.” He also let me know that he had ceased activity in the LDS Church, and that he felt too much “difficulty with the alienation of our Gay members,” and hoped with all this heart that we would eventually enjoy “all civil rights including marriage.” This touching apology moved me to tears then and brings tears now as I write this.

Just months later, in May 2007, I returned to Salt Lake for the first time after fleeing to Santa Cruz in 1994. I gave the keynote address at the 30th anniversary of the founding of Affirmation: Gay and Lesbian Mormons. And Ted Wilson and his lovely wife, Holly Mullen, attended! I got to see him once more and gave him a big Viking hug and thanked him from the bottom of my heart for his lovely apology. We again reconnected after I moved back to Salt Lake in 2011, but I mainly kept track of him through Holly’s Facebook account. Just last week, some photos of him crossed my feed, and I had an inkling. Now I really wish I had sent Holly a message to give to Ted. But he knows my heart, and I know his. Ted, wherever you are right now, I love you, I thank you for the much-needed healing you brought to me, and above all, I hope your memory is a great blessing to many. I know it is for me.

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