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Is Gay Contagious? (Part 4 of 4)

In our next conversation, we’ll talk about whether homosexuality, and heterosexuality, are contagious.  Is it possible to change one’s sexual attraction?  Dr. Taylor Petrey will talk about how LDS Church leaders’ views have changed over the past half century.

GT:  I’m going to ask the question this way. Is gay contagious?  Maybe I should say it this way. Do church leaders think gay is contagious?

Taylor:  Great question. The answer is that up until very recently, yes. And they thought that heterosexuality was contagious, too. So the whole idea behind the notion of a gay cure, which is what people like Packer and others were promising, and we invested a ton of resources, both intellectual and material resources into the idea of a cure that would be helped by things like reparative therapy, and so on. The idea was, well, if we can teach these men, and most of the concern is around men, which I want to acknowledge.  Lesbians do sort of fall in the background a little bit.  When they’re talking about feminism, they’re talking about lesbians, but when they’re talking about homosexuality, they’re talking about men. They say, “Listen, we can teach these guys to play some sports, give them some confidence in basketball. If we can teach these guys to work on a car, or take up these manly activities and be around other manly men, who know how to do this stuff, then they’re going to be just fine and their desires are going to become heterosexual. It was the same way that the worry of the working woman was going to start to desire sexually other women. The concern was that the reason why men were gay is that they hadn’t appropriated masculinity enough. So that’s why these issues of gender and sexuality, are so closely connected for church leaders because they see heterosexuality as the proper outcome of masculinity, or the proper outcome of femininity. When masculinity and femininity themselves are being weakened in some ways, when suddenly women can now work, and be doctors and lawyers, and maybe men might be staying home or maybe men are sharing leadership with their wives in the home, then masculinity is going to be weakened to such an extent that if it doesn’t cause homosexuality for the equal father himself, who’s equal with his wife, it’s going to cause it in his children.

So his children are going, his male children are going to desire in abnormal ways, right? So this notion of sexual fluidity is really kind of the basis of the way that church leaders are thinking about heterosexuality and homosexuality as sort of, “If you can become one you can also become the other.”  Why they’re worried about the normalization of homosexuality, then, during this period, is because it’s contagious. They say, numerous times, including Dallin Oaks in that document that we were just talking about in 1984, that if homosexuality is socially normal, then within one generation, everyone will become gay, and then the population will die out.

What are your thoughts?  Check out our conversation….

LDS Leaders believed gay people could be cured because both homosexuality and heterosexuality were contagious.

Don’t miss our previous conversations with Dr. Petrey!

435:  Oaks’ Role in Designing LGBT Policy

434:  Feminism, Sexual Revolution & LDS Church

433:  LDS Leaders on Interracial Marriage

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Feminism, Sexual Revolution, & LDS Church (Part 2 of 4)

Phyllis Schlafly was an important figure in defeating the Equal Rights Amendment, and she convinced LDS leaders to oppose the amendment.  Dr. Taylor Petry will tell us more about how LDS messages have changed over the decades with regards to feminism and the sexual revolution.

Taylor: Phyllis Schlafly becomes the most famous anti-feminist during this time period. Schlafly is a Catholic, and she sees something that had been happening in the broader conservative religious world at the time, where there had been a backlash to the kinds of feminism that was arising.  But it hadn’t really been organized as a political movement. So she sees that evangelicals and Protestant fundamentalists and even Mormons, are opposing feminism. She says we need to unite all of these people into a single coalition that will be able to speak for our values. The big issue of the time period is the Equal Rights Amendment. The Equal Rights Amendment was hugely popular among Democrats and Republicans.

All the Republicans at the outset of it passing in Congress, were ecstatic about it, and then it needs to march through the states.  Immediately it’s passed by the first 32 states within the first year or something like that.  That’s when the opposition really gets going. When the Stop ERA movement that Phyllis Schlafly is organizing and pulling together–all the sort of anti-feminist groups into a political coalition and the Church gets involved.  [The Church] is specifically recruited by Phyllis Schlafly to get involved in this fight. [The Church] politically mobilizes, for the first time in decades at that point.  The Church had not really seen itself as having a political mission. Even during ERA, at the very beginning, if you asked church leaders in the first couple of years that the ERA was a public topic, in the early 70s–the ERA had been around since the 1920s. But it really kind of gets going in the early 70s. It was supposed to be the sort of follow-up to the civil rights amendments or civil rights movements of the 1960s.  So now it’s the feminists turn, so the Church gets recruited to do this and reverses itself because at first it was a no, this is a political issue. We don’t comment on political issues. We just care about moral issues, not political ones. But Phyllis Schlafly convinces the church that this is a moral issue, that it’s not just a political issue. So the Church decides to mobilize its membership in this political fight, and they start sending members to ERA conventions to shout down the leaders that are there, and to disrupt the meetings. The Church’s, nearly decade long, it lasted about eight years, fight against the Equal Rights Amendment until it was finally defeated in 1982, decisively. This was one of the major ways that the church gets involved in the anti-feminist movement.

We’ll also talk about changing attitudes with regards to birth control, and how feminism was tied to lesbians.  Were you aware that Schlafly changed Kimball’s mind on the Equal Rights Amendment?  Check out our conversation….

Phyllis Schlafly persuaded Pres Kimball to oppose ERA.
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LDS Leaders on Interracial Marriage (Part 1 of 4)

I’m excited to introduce Dr. Taylor Petry, an associate professor at Kalamazoo College, and editor for the Dialogue Journal.  In this first segment, we’ll talk about how LDS leaders have changed how they talk about race issues, especially with regards to interracial marriage over the 20th century.  Is this similar to possible changes regarding LGBT issues?

Taylor: The typical way that we have told the history of the priesthood ban has been primarily around focusing on race as the exclusive category.  But when I started looking at the conversations that were happening and what church leaders were saying about race in the 1950s and 60s, I saw immediately that marriage was one of the big concerns. Why were they in favor of segregation? Why did they oppose civil rights? Why did they even have church policies that would prevent marriage in the temple?

Because they were really concerned about interracial sex. They thought that this was a big, big problem. We have this whole ideology about race and racialized groups, that this group was destined to do this, and this group was destined to do that. They worried that interracial mixing would dilute the sort of divine designs for those particular races. So I immediately saw that the question of race was really entwined with the with questions of sexuality. Again, as a sort of modern parallel to issues around same sex relationships today, I also wanted to show that the question of ‘who could marry who’ wasn’t just an issue that we dealt with in polygamy. It was an issue that we dealt with in the 1950s, 60s and 70s, and even up until the last decade, we still were publishing manuals that had quotes from Spencer W. Kimball discouraging interracial marriage.

So the question of who can marry who, what kinds of couples are allowed in the church, in some cases, socially, and then in some cases ecclesiastically, was not just an old question, it was a pretty new question that we’ve dealt with. So I wanted to tell the history of how we worked through that particular issue as a way, not explicitly, but a parallel to the kinds of questions that we’re dealing with [regarding] same sex relationships, too.

Of course, things have changed pretty radically with regards to interracial marriage since the 1960s.

GT:  I think what was interesting to me is, especially in the ‘50s, and 60s, that interracial marriage would bring about the downfall of civilization. Now we have a black general authority, which was unheard of in the 50s and 60s. Peter Johnson is who I’m talking about, but he’s married to a white woman. And we have an apostle, [Gerrit] Gong.  He’s Asian, and he has a white wife as well. So, apparently, we’ve completely changed on this issue about whether interracial marriage is a good thing. I think you also mentioned Mia Love.  She’s a black Congresswoman, and she has a white husband.  So, talk about how we flip from, “This is the downfall of civilization,” to totally embracing it now.

Taylor:  Spencer W. Kimball, who had been a big advocate of the Indian Placement Program, was out there as the biggest opponent of interracial marriage. The same thing happens when we’re setting up BYU-Hawaii or whatever it was called back then, the Polynesian College.[1]  I forget exactly what its name was back then. But, [you get the] same thing. You get social integration.  That leads to marriages and relationships and the church is like, “Oh, this isn’t what we meant. We wanted integration, but not intermarriage.” So, there’s a lot of anxiety about that. It’s surprising that then, what are we 40-50 years later, now, General authorities who were those who were of that age when they were hearing all of these messages of:  Don’t get married, don’t be involved in interracial marriages. They ignored that advice, got married anyway and now have become general authorities. So, I think that those are some really interesting ones.

The Mia Love one I found particularly interesting because it’s not just the racial boundaries that were being blurred in her case, but also she was, of course, working. She was a working mother and not only working in a high demand job, but a high demand job that often took her out of state, as well. Yet, the church didn’t seem to have any problem with it. They promoted her on the I’m a Mormon campaign. There were newspaper articles in the Deseret News, talking about her and her relationship with her husband. So I wanted to sort of trace that shift. How do we get to today where these things aren’t problematic, when they were [problematic] to the members of the 50s and 60s?  If Joseph Fielding Smith were around today and saw what the makeup of the general authorities and the kinds of marriages that they were in, how many children they had, did they use birth control?  All of those things he would be very confused by, because he was such a vehement opponent of those practices. So I wanted to understand, again, that these aren’t–it’s not just the change from monogamy to polygamy, that’s not the only big change that we’ve made with respect to marriage and certainly not with respect to sexuality. It’s much more recent than that, that we’ve been having this conversation inside of the church about who gets to marry who and what are the rules around that and so on.

[1] It was called Church College of Hawaii in 1955.

What are your thoughts on the changing rhetoric around interracial marriage?  Check out our conversation….

By the way, I’m giving away a copy of Taylor’s book, “Tabernacles of Clay.”  If you would like to win, sign up at (open to U.S. residents only)

Dr. Taylor Petrey of Kalamazoo College tells how general authorities have changed views on interracial marriage over the past 70 years. Will similar changes happen for LGBT?

Don’t miss our previous conversations with Dr. Matt Harris who covers a similar time period on race issues.

353: Impact of Protests on Apostles (Harris)

352: BYU Law School Almost Lost Accreditation (Harris)

351: Civil Rights Investigation at BYU (Harris)

350: Sports Protests Against BYU (Harris)

349: Race & Religious Minorities at BYU (Harris)

348: How Brazil Influenced Official Declaration 2 (Harris)

347: Did Nixon & Carter Pressure BYU Over Race? (Harris)