Queer Utah Ancestors

Table of Contents

For questions or comments, please contact Connell O’Donovan (He-Him-His)

CHARLES EDMONDS (1799-1856)
and LUKE CARTER (1810-1856)

Josiah Rogerson, who had been a young man in the disastrous Martin Handcart Company of Mormon pioneers, wrote the following account of his experience crossing the plains to Utah pushing a handcart on foot. In my Queer reading of this portion of his story, he described an older, butch-femme Gay male couple struggling with their meager supplies and the endless monotony of pushing a cart from Iowa to Utah. The rest is in Josiah’s words:

Charles Edmonds Dies.
About 10:30 this morning we passed Fort Kearney, and as one of the most singular deaths occurred on our journey at this time, I will give a brief and truthful narration of the incident. Two bachelors named Luke Carter, from the Clitheroe branch [of the church], Yorkshire, England, and Charles Edmonds from Manchester, England, each about 50 to 55 years of age, had pulled a covered cart together from Iowa City, Ia., to this point. They slept in the same tent, cooked and bunked together; but for several days previous unpleasant and cross words had passed between them. Edmonds was a tall, loosely built and tender man physically, and Carter more stocky and sturdy. He had favored Edmonds by letting the latter pull only what he could in the shafts for some time. This morning he grumbled and complained, still traveling, about being tired, and that he couldn’t go any further. Carter retorted: “Come on. Come on. You’ll be all right again when we get a bit of dinner at noon.” But Edmonds kept begging for him to stop the cart and let him lie down and die, Carter replying, “Well, get out and die, then.”

The cart was instantly stopped. Carter raised the shafts of the cart. Edmonds walked from under and to the south of the road a couple of rods, laid his body down on the level prairie, and in ten minutes he was a corpse. We waited (a few carts of us) a few minutes longer till the captain came up and closed Edmonds’s eyes. A light-loaded open cart was unloaded. The body was put thereon, covered with a quilt, and the writer [Rogerson] pulled him to the noon camp, some five or six miles, where we dug his grave and buried him a short distance west of Fort Kearney, Neb.
_____

Charles Edmonds died 13 September 1856 near Ft. Kearney, Nebraska. Luke Carter died in November 1856 in Wyoming. I like to think Luke died from a broken heart, but it was more likely sheer exhaustion and starvation…exacerbated by a broken heart.

LOUIE B. FELT (1850-1928)
and MAY ANDERSON (1864-1946)

Louie Bouton, born in Connecticut, came to Utah with her family in 1866. May Anderson was from England and came to Utah after converting to Mormonism in 1883. In fact, the two met on the train May was travelling on to move to Utah. Louie was married to Joseph Felt at the time, and after falling in love with May, separated from him so she and May could live together. 

Their third-person autobiography states, “Those who watched their devotion to each other declare that there never were more ardent lovers than these two.”

Louie was the first General President of the Primary Association (for LDS children) in 1880 and May was the second. They were also responsible for starting and editing “The Children’s Friend” LDS magazine, and founded the Primary Children’s Hospital in 1911. Their final years were spent together in the Covey Apartments on South Temple until Louie’s death.

WILLIAM/EVA McCLEERY
(1850-1932)

William, later known as Eva McCleery, is the earliest known transgender person in the state of Utah. Born in Liverpool, England, William and his parents converted to Mormonism and they immigrated to Utah in 1875, initially residing in South Jordan. 

His Irish father had been a bootmaker in England and William became a shoemaker, but reportedly also dressed as a girl for some ten years as a youth while learning the trade. William married Ida McClure in 1878 and they had six children. They lived in Ogden for five years where William taught shoemaking at the Deaf and Blind Institute. They returned to Salt Lake City when William opened the Acme Shoe Shop in 1902 in the Utah National Bank Building on Main Street.

William started again dressing as a woman around this time, which apparently led to his wife Ida divorcing him in 1910. Then on 28 October 1911 “William” McCleery told a reporter for the Salt Lake Tribune that he was really born a woman named Eva McCleery but had secretly lived most of her life as a man so that she could be a shoemaker. She also told the reporter, “I prefer wearing male attire but if there is any objection from anyone I will never again don trousers.” However, three days later, the Salt Lake Herald informed the public that Eva McCleery in fact was the biological male named William McCleery, and the false history he had given to the Tribune was “in reality, the invention of a mind so distorted by pre-natal suggestion that for sixty years McCleery has been mentally dominated by the instincts and preferences of his twin sister, who was still-born.”

McCleery’s children had known “for years of his peculiar disease…[and] when these impulses sweep over him, male reasoning seeks flight and to all intents and purposes he becomes the twin sister. Stranger still, he involuntarily assumes feminine mannerisms and his voice becomes soft and low.” McCleery also told the Herald that “for ten years he worked at the cobbler’s bench in England dressed as a girl. ‘I had lots of fun,’ he said, ‘and many a young spark [courting man] made love to me.’” English birth records however do not show that William McCleery had a twin sister, although sometimes stillbirths were not recorded. Perhaps the family came up with this story as a way to make sense of his profound need to be a woman.

By 1915, William was living full-time as Eva McCleery (as evidenced by city directories) and lived and worked in her home at 460 South 900 East, now claiming to be the widow of William McCleery. However, as she aged and was no longer able to care for herself, she moved in with her daughter Lottie by 1930, but there was forced to live as a man once again until her death in 1932. She is buried as William in the South Jordan Cemetery.

McCleery in shoe shop, from the Salt Lake Tribune, 1911

1915 directory as Eva McCleary

BRIGHAM MORRIS YOUNG
(1854-1931)

Morris was the son of Brigham Young and wife number 18, Margaret Pierce. After serving a mission to the Hawai’ian Islands, his father asked him to organize the Young Men’s Mutual Improvement Association (YMMIA). He married Celestia Armeda Snow, daughter of Lorenzo Snow, and they had ten children.

In the late 1880s, Morris began performing as Madam Pattirini, an Italian opera diva. He sang in such a beautiful falsetto voice that some in his audiences were convinced he was a cisgender woman. This photo was taken about 1901 by famed western photographer C. R. Savage. It was printed as large placards to promote an appearance of Pattirini at the Sugar House Ward.

The historical evidence points only to Young cross-dressing as public entertainment, but he paved the way for later cross-dressing entertainers who appeared in Utah, some of whom were LGBT. Photo courtesy of LDS Church History Library

Wallace Packham (left) and Evan Stephens

EVAN STEPHENS
(1854-1930)

Born in Wales, his family converted to Mormonism and immigrated to Utah in 1866. Musically gifted, he wrote numerous compositions (including Utah’s official state hymn, “Utah, We Love Thee”) and he was involved with several local choirs before becoming director of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir in 1890. He was responsible for leading it into international fame. Although rumored to have had two romances with women, he never married, highly unusual in polygamous Utah.

In fact, his autobiography, oddly published in “The Children’s Friend” (for Mormon kids), rhapsodizes his relationships with men, and his penchant for young, working class men throughout his life, much like Walt Whitman.

Those men he loved most and lived the longest with were Willard Christopherson, Noel Pratt, Thomas S. Thomas, and Wallace Packham (portrayed with him below with Stephens in butch cowboy drag). Stephens referred to them as his “several life companions, who have shared his home life.” When Stephens died, his will designated as his main heir Wallie Packham, “a friend.”

I also once owned Evan’s temple apron (an item of ritual apparel representing the covering of fig leaves in the Garden of Eden) that he wore in the very first ritual company that passed through the Salt Lake Temple after its dedication in April 1893.

Photos courtesy of LDS Church History Museum

Wallace Packham (left) and Evan Stephens

Noel Pratt (left) and Evan Stephens

ADA DWYER
(1863-1952)

Ada was born and raised a Mormon in Salt Lake City, where she was originally trained as a public orator. While studying in Boston and New York, she became intrigued with the theatre and in the 1880s began her stage career. She toured extensively all over America, England, and Australia.

A brief marriage to actor Harold Russell soon ended upon his early death. Thereafter her primary relationships were always with women. In 1912, she met the famed Imagist poet Amy Lowell of Boston and they soon fell in love. Ada moved in with Amy and became her literary muse until Amy’s death in 1925. Lowell left Dwyer her extensive estate and fortune, and Ada destroyed all their personal communications, but Amy Lowell’s love poems to Ada remain an enduring testament to their love. Ada died in Maryland and is buried in the Salt Lake City Cemetery.

Amy Lowell wrote this in 1922 for Ada, in honor of their 10th anniversary –

     A Decade
     When you came, you were like red wine and honey,
     And the taste of you burnt my mouth with its sweetness.
     Now you are like morning bread,
     Smooth and pleasant.
     I hardly taste you at all for I know your savour,
     But I am completely nourished.

MAUDE ADAMS
(1872-1953)

Maude Ewing Kiskadden was born at home, near 9th and 9th. She debuted at the Salt Lake Theatre when she was 9 months old. Her family moved to San Francisco when she was 4, where she began acting with a stock company. They returned to Salt Lake about 1883, but Maude continued acting, debuting on Broadway in 1888. 

At the height of her career she was making over $1 million a year and so she bought properties in Salt Lake, Manhattan, Long Island, and the Catskills. She portrayed the very first Peter Pan on Broadway in 1905, mesmerizing audiences. She also played the male role of Napoleon II. One of her favorite roles was playing the (male) rooster, Chanticler. When she was starring as Joan of Arc in “The Maid of Orleans”, the famous Art Nouveau painter Alfons Mucha designed an extraordinary poster of her in the role.

She was also an inventor, working for two years with General Electric and Eastman Kodak, helping develop color photography and inventing a high-powered light bulb that made color movies possible.

In later years she taught acting at Stephens College in Missouri. Her lovers reportedly included Spring Byington, Katherine Cornell, Mercedes de Acosta, Lillie Florence, and Eva La Gallienne. Her long-time companion was Louise Boynton, the two living together from before 1930 until 1951 when Louise died. They share a gravestone on Maude’s property on Long Island. Her beauty was so extraordinary, Maude inspired Jane Seymour’s character, Elise McKenna, in Somewhere in Time.

Maude as Peter Pan

Maude as Napoleon II

Maude as Chanticler

Maude was the inspiration for Elise McKenna, played by Jane Seymour, opposite Christopher Reeves

Illustration of Maude as Joan of Arc, by Alfons Mucha

KATE THOMAS
(1873-1950)

One of thirteen children, Kate was born in Salt Lake City to British parents. She became a prolific, turn-of-the-century Mormon playwright and poet who withdrew somewhat from Mormonism while exploring her attraction to other women. Thomas, who never married, left Utah for New York City and Europe in 1901 but still maintained contact with Mormonism by writing lessons and poetry for the Relief Society and Young Ladies’ manuals and magazines while on her extended absences.

At the age of nineteen Thomas began keeping a private journal of what she called her “love poetry” while attending courses in Salt Lake City at the LDS Business College and later the University of Deseret (now the U of U). This journal consists almost entirely of love poems written to other women. In them, she sometimes referred to herself as “a Gay Musician” and used the word gay repeatedly and exclusively in her poems about her desire for women, much as Lesbian writer Gertrude Stein did around this time.

In 1901, when Kate moved to Greenwich Village (already an LGBT mecca) in New York City, she explored not only Lesbian desire, but also religious and spiritual traditions as diverse as Catholicism and Buddhism – and she also practiced yoga. Some of her poetry of that same period reflects a growing disaffection with Mormonism. Thomas also became an outspoken suffragette, peace activist, anarchist, and supporter of the very controversial League of Nations.

However, Kate returned to Utah before 1920, living first with her mother, and by 1930 with her brother Elbert, a Democrat who in 1933 would become Utah’s U.S. Senator. At some point her faith in Mormonism was restored enough that when she was 49, she participated in the LDS temple endowment ceremony as a single woman. She is buried in the Salt Lake City Cemetery.

3 examples of her homoerotic poetry:

This morning how I wished that I might be
Just long enough to write one heart-felt rhyme
To one so near that she seems a part of me.
But were I all the bards that ever sung
Turned into one transcendent immortelle
It seems to me I still would lack the tongue
To say how long I’d love her or how well!
Fall on her daily doubled o’er and o’er
When world on world and worlds again shall roll
God grant that we two shall still stand soul to soul!

A scarlet West;
An East merged into eventide. A brown plain
And by my side
The one – the one in all the world
I love the best!
Last night’s gay mask –
The outward wildness and the inward ache
I cast off forever; from her lips I take joy never-ceasing.
Brown plain and her kiss
Are all I ask.

A Gay Musician (written Dec. 30, 18–?)
A gay musician I, ne’r knew a care,
My life a life of seeming,
Until I gazed in Illa’s eyes & there
The soul of music saw upon me beaming.
The soul of music! Music was my god,
And when I saw her hid in Illa’s eyes,
I needs must follow wheresoe’er she trod,
And worship her within that fair disguise.
One day sweet Illa’s hand upon the keys
Trembled, & wondrous! marred the perfect strain.
I saw it as the heartsick wanderer sees
The open door that welcomes home again.
That dear white hand within my own I took.
“Illa”, I whispered, “may I keep it so?”
The eager blood my anxious cheek forsook.
Fearing my love that loved me might say no.
Oh, foolish fear! My dear love’s heart rebelled
That I should doubt & seeking to reprove.
She raised her eyes. There looking I beheld
The soul of Music through the eyes of love.

One historian commented that in this poem “the poet is speaking in the voice of one female to another…and as in many others in the journal, makes clear the sensuality of fantasy and desire.”

Sen. Elbert D. Thomas (D) home just west of the LDS Conference Center, 157 N. West Temple. Kate lived here with her brother and his family for many of her later years.

EDITH M. CHAPMAN
(1885-1967)

Edith was born in Salt Lake to a beloved Episcopalian dentist, and to an ex-Mormon survivor of the disastrous Martin Handcart Company of 1856, Sarah Briggs. Edith’s paternal aunt, Ann E. Chapman, was a pioneering librarian in Utah, and is rumored by family members to also have been a Lesbian.

The Chapman Branch of the Salt Lake Public Library system, located in Rose Park, is named after Ann E. Chapman. Edith attended the Oquirrh Elementary School downtown and then West High, growing up at 817 East 700 South. Edith was quite athletic and played on a girls’ Junior High basketball team called the Hamiltons. In 1900, her team beat her school’s second-string boys’ team, which made the papers. Upon graduating from West High in 1906, Edith immediately began teaching at the Sandy School, while also attending the University of Utah in its education program. She graduated in 1923 and became an Instructor of Elementary Education at the U.

In 1924, Edith met and fell in love with Mildred “Barrie” Berryman (see previous biography) a pioneering sexologist who was studying a group of Lesbians and Gay men from Salt Lake. Edith was one of Mildred’s subjects, and Mildred reported that Edith’s “entire makeup mental and physical are positively feminine.” Mildred also reported that Edith had been engaged to marry a man, but her family prohibited the marriage, and afterwards, Edith “never cultivated masculine attention” again. While their relationship only lasted a brief time, Mildred lived with Edith for four years in the small Lesbian boarding house that Edith owned and lived in at 615 E. 900 South [now Harvey Milk Blvd.], just north of Liberty Park. Their relationship did not last because Mildred claimed Edith “wanted a lover and child in one individual and made the object of her affections wretched with heavy attention, jealous rages and amorous demands.”

Edith, busy with her education career, had Carline Monson, a favorite aunt of LDS president Thomas S. Monson, run the boarding house for Lesbians. Mildred moved out of Edith’s boarding house in 1929 and by 1931, Edith had grown tired of her limited romantic options in Salt Lake. While there were several bars in Salt Lake at the time (mostly on upper State Street) where Gay men could frequent, the Lesbian community resorted to home parties and making “pilgrimages” to San Francisco. Edith had joined some of these excursions to the Bay Area in the 1920s and fell in love with the social climate there. She signed over ownership of her home to Carline Monson in 1931 and moved to Berkeley, California, where she continued teaching until her death.

By 1939, Edith was living with her lover Alma Harder Baker. After their break up in 1951, Edith became lovers with Dorothy “Dollie” Wobbs and lived with her for the rest of her life. When Edith died in Oakland in 1967, her obituary referred to herself as “the loving friend of Miss Dorothy J. Wobbs.” Edith is buried in the Mount Olivet Cemetery in Salt Lake, next to her parents and brother.

Edith’s boarding house for Lesbians (from 1924-1931) at 615 E. 900 S. (Harvey Milk Blvd)

A map that Edith drew about 1898 when she attended the Oquirrh School.

WINIFRED KIMBALL SHAUGHNESSY

aka Natacha Rambova
(1897-1966)

Born in Salt Lake to a granddaughter of Mormon apostle Heber C. Kimball and a non-Mormon miner, she was raised in San Francisco and then sent to a private school in Surrey, England, where she excelled at ballet.

She studied under Theodore Kosloff of the Russian Ballet Company in New York City at 17 and Winifred began using the stage name of Natacha Rambova. When Kosloff moved to LA to work on Cecil B. DeMille films, Rambova moved with him. There she met the famous female silent film producer and actress, Alla Nazimova. Alla discovered that Natacha not only had a brilliant artistic mind but could also hand-stitch costumes at a moment’s notice. They collaborated on several films, Natacha proving to be a phenomenal costume and set designer, greatly inspired by the Gay Aesthetic illustrator, Aubrey Beardsley. Alla Nazimova was also openly Lesbian and her mansion on Sunset Boulevard was the scene of infamous parties involving her “sewing circle” – a code for Lesbian and Bisexual actresses in her entourage. One of these was the bisexual Natacha.

In 1923, wishing to honor the 30th anniversary of Oscar Wilde’s publication of his play, “Salomé,” about her erotic fixation with John the Baptist, Alla Nazimova mounted a reportedly all Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual cast (and some crew) for a film version. Alla chose Natacha to design costumes and sets, and they are arguably the most visually striking and exotic costumes in Hollywood history. Alla of course played the lead of Salomé and Natacha also made a cameo appearance in the film. Two years earlier, Nazimova introduced Natacha Rambova to actor Rudolph Valentino, who was then already unhappily married to Bisexual actress, Jean Acker. Valentino, widely rumored to be Gay himself, reportedly used these two women, Acker and Rambova, as “beards” to prevent any scandal that would ruin his career as the great (heterosexual) “Latin Lover.” After divorcing Acker, Valentino and Rambova married. Both were obsessed with spiritualism and often took part in séances and automatic writing. After two years of marriage, acrimonious feelings dominated their relationship and a dramatically heated divorce ensued. After Valentino died in 1926, Rambova suddenly became the inconsolable, ever-loving and beloved widow.

In June 1928, Natacha, with her mother Winifred Kimball Hudnut and aunt Tessy Kimball Werner, brought the flamboyantly Gay spiritual medium George B. Wehner on a private tour of the Salt Lake Tabernacle. A year later, Wehner himself described going into trance during the occasion and receiving messages from early Mormon leaders like Joseph Smith and Brigham Young…and the Angel “Maroni.” Rambova employed Wehner for quite some time, assisting her in contacting her dead husband, Rudolph Valentino, in the “astral plane.” Her own memoirs and these spirit messages were published as “Rudolph Valentino: Recollections.”

Rambova moved to France in 1932 and then married Spanish aristocrat Álvaro de Urzáiz. He took her on her first visit to Egypt where she befriended the famous “King Tut” archaeologist, Howard Carter and she became avidly engaged in Egyptology. Probably influenced by her early Mormonism, she was convinced she could find evidence of Egyptian beliefs among pre-Columbian American cultures. She also became a respected Egyptologist herself, and upon returning to the US in 1954, donated her extensive Egyptian collection to the University of Utah’s Museum of Fine Arts. She edited several books on ancient Egypt and in 1957 contributed an essay on symbology in Egyptian papyri for “Mythological Papyri.” At her death, she was cremated and her ashes spread in a forest in northern Arizona. She is portrayed by Michelle Phillips (of the Mamas and Papas) in Ken Russell’s 1977 film “Valentino,” and portrayed again in the 2015 “American Horror Story: Hotel”.

Rudolph Valentino and Natacha Rambova
Alla Nazimova as Salomé – Natacha Rambova is one of the four attendants
Aubrey Beardsley’s design for Salomés peacock robe, and Natacha Rambova’s interpretation for Alla Nazimova in the 1923 film, Salomé.

MILDRED “BARRIE” BARRYMAN
(1901-1972)


Born in Salt Lake, Mildred began studying at Westminster in 1916. Mildred informed a teacher that she was a Lesbian and wanted to do a psychological study on homosexuality. Consent was denied, and several other students pulled out of school until Mildred was expelled.

In 1924 Mildred became lovers with Edith Chapman, an education instructor at the U. Edith also ran a boarding house for Lesbians at 615 East 900 South, and Mildred moved in. Using this as a nucleus for her research, Mildred began interviewing 24 Lesbians and 9 Gay men over the course of several years, working on her “thesis.”

After she parted with Chapman, Barrie continued working as a photographer. She completed “The Psychological Phenomena of the Homosexual” in 1939 and tried unsuccessfully to get it published. Barrie was also a noted herpetologist and mineralogist in the 1930s-1950s. She met her long-time companion, Ruth Uckerman, while working at an arms factory during World War II, and the two lived together in Woods Cross until Mildred’s death.

WALLACE THURMAN
(1902-1934)

Wallace was born in and raised in Salt Lake City, mostly by his mother and her mother, his parents having divorced when he was 3. They lived at 168 East 300 South, now the site of the Utah Department of Commerce building, while grandmother Emma Jackson supported them working as the Matron of the old Wilkes Theatre (now Promised Valley Playhouse on State Street).

Wallace attended West High and when he was 17 he began working at the café now called the Roof Restaurant atop the old Hotel Utah. He loved reading Plato, Aristotle, Shakespeare, and sexologist Havelock Ellis. After graduating, he went to the University of Utah several quarters (pre-med) and then transferred briefly to University of Southern California (USC).

In Los Angeles he briefly worked as a columnist for a black newspaper and then started his own, the “Outlet.” He left USC without graduating and moved to Harlem, New York in 1925, to join the fledgling Renaissance there. A letter he wrote in 1929 describes how the week after he arrived in New York City Wallace was offered $2.00 for sex with a male 5th avenue hair dresser and the desperate Wallace accepted. Before anything happened, two cops arrested them on morals charges and Wallace was fined $25 or three days in jail. The other man got 6 months in jail as he had been arrested for solicitation before. Wallace got bail through a minister friend of a friend. However, Thurman soon learned that the minister was also in “the male sisterhood,” as he put it, and demanded sexual favors from Wallace in return for his silence. Wallace refused and later, when he became well-known in Harlem, the minister told all of Wallace’s friends about the arrest, to Wallace’s humiliation.

In 1926, he published the first and only edition of the literary magazine “Fire!! Devoted to Younger Negro Artists,” with contributions from the famed Zora Neale Hurston, Richard Bruce Nugent, Aaron Douglas, and Gwendolyn B. Bennett. He coined the term “the Niggerati” for their circle of Harlem writers, philosophers, artists, and intellectuals. Sometimes discriminated against by other blacks because he was so dark-skinned, he openly and often criticized the community for its “colorist” preference for those lighter-skinned.

He lived in a flat in a rooming house at 267 W. 136th Street in Harlem, which became a center for their avant-garde circle, and Richard Bruce Nugent painted homoerotic murals on the walls. Thurman, who was bisexual, married Louise Thompson in 1928 but it only lasted for six months, reportedly due to her uncomfortability with sex. In 1929 his play Harlem debuted on Broadway. He also wrote The Blacker the Berry: A Novel of Negro Life, now recognized as a seminal work of fiction. He died at the age of 32 from tuberculosis exacerbated by alcoholism and is buried on Staten Island.

Wallace at about 2, around 1904 – taken at Brown Photography Studios, 62 West 200 South, Salt Lake City

Wallace (right) and Langston Hughes

DR. LEONA B. HOLBROOK
(1909-1980)

Born in Lehi, Leona attended the University of Utah, studying athletics and art, and she was an editor of the campus’s Daily Utah Chronicle. Her graduate studies were completed at Columbia University, and then she was hired in 1937 as chair of the women’s PE Department at BYU.

In the 1940s and ’50s she was active in a social network of Gay and Lesbian students and faculty at the Y. In 1947 she was elected President of the College Women’s Physical Education Association.
Holbrook also served as president of the American Association of Health, Physical Education, and Recreation in 1966-67.

In 1967 she was honored with the BYU Alumni Distinguished Service Award, and in 1977 with the Karl G. Maeser Distinguished Teaching Award, among others. The first woman to serve on the U.S. Olympic Committee, Dr. Holbrook participated in the International Olympic Academy in Greece.

She retired from BYU in 1974, although she taught there part-time until her death. BYU continues to honor her with the “Leona Holbrook Spirit of Sport Award,” given to the senior female athlete whose participation best exemplifies the true spirit of sport in athletics and in life.

Sporting 1940s Lesbian chic

MAY SWENSON
(1913-1989)

Anna Thilda “May” Swenson was raised in Logan in a large Mormon family speaking Swedish as their primary language. May graduated from Utah State in 1934, and taught poetry as poet-in-residence at Bryn Mawr College, UC Riverside, Purdue, Utah State, and other universities. She was out to her family, which was challenging for them, but they maintained close ties her entire life.

One of her lovers was the sports author Rozanne “R. R.” Knudson. Much of her poetry featured nature and eroticism intertwined (“the pelvic heave of mountains,” for example.) Only once in her career did she allow her poetry to be used in an anthology of Lesbian writing.

Swenson was Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets from 1980 until her death in Delaware. She is buried in Logan, Utah. Utah State continues to honor May Swenson in many ways, including sponsorship of an annual poetry contest in her name.

May Swenson in Tucson, Arizona.
Photo by L. H. Clark

DR. JOEL DORIUS
(1916-2006)

Raised on Capitol Hill, Joel attended West High and sang in the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. While attending the University of Utah he met other Gay people, but the topic was never openly spoken of. He won a graduate scholarship to Harvard and then received a 4-F draft deferral during World War II for his homosexuality.

He studied and taught English literature at Harvard and Yale until 1958 when he went to Smith College. There, he joined a small group of Gay men (including Truman Capote) who circulated male physique magazines. In 1960 some, including Joel, were arrested after a US Postal Inspector claimed they were mailing pornography to each other. Fired from Smith College and dubbed one of “the porn professors,” he accepted a guilty verdict so he could appeal it.

In 1963, his conviction was overturned by the Massachusetts Supreme Court, a major early legal victory for our community. He moved to Germany until the dust of the scandal settled, and then in 1964 he joined San Francisco State faculty, remaining there until retirement and his death. He wrote an online autobiography titled “My Four Lives” detailing his early years in Utah and Mormonism and their effect on his later life.

When Dr. Dorius died, his friend, a Jesuit priest teaching at Santa Clara College, inherited the copyright. He didn’t know what to do with it, and signed the copyright of it over to me in 2007. I plan to post it online again soon!

Joel Dorius (upper left) and family

Two-Spirit couple, Tribal affiliation unknown

Native American Tribes in Utah
BERDACHES (Two-Spirit)

Native American tribes in the Utah area had roles for Queer and Transgender folks. Traditionally, historians and anthropologists called these people “berdaches”, a Persian word coming into English via French, referring to non-binary genders in indigenous tribes. Many tribes (but not all, such as the Navajo) now use the term “two-spirit” instead.

Often these people held important roles in the tribe as healers, shamans, adoptive parents, story-tellers, peace-makers, match-makers, etc.

In 1924, Robert H. Lowie published his ethnographical findings on Shoshonean peoples of Idaho, Utah, and Colorado area. In a small section, he acknowledged the existence of these “berdaches” among the various tribes:

Berdaches

A Shivwits (Southern Paiute band around St. George area) informant recollected hearing people speak of a man who never hunted and though not dressing like a woman acted like one and had a feminine voice. He would lead the women with a basket when they went seed-gathering and roasted seeds like them. He was married to two men, sleeping with each on alternate nights. In myths such persons are called ma-ai’pots.

Among the Southern Utes, Panayús remembered hearing his father tell of a berdache (tuwásawits), who owned a great many horses. Possibly as many as half a dozen boys would stay there and have her cook for them. One morning when the berdache rose early, one of the boys was lying on the side as she was stirring the ashes and “she” touched his member with her feet. The boy got angry and kicked her, then she walked away and would not cook for them any more, so the other boys got angry at the one who had offended her. At Ouray (Colorado) my informant saw two berdaches himself, and my interpreter Tony recalled one he had seen there about 18 years ago (i.e. about 1906) – a tall stout man, also another one of short stature at Whiterocks.

 

ROBERT I. MCQUEEN
(1942 – 1989)

Born in Price, Utah, Robert went on an LDS mission to Austria in 1961 and afterwards attended first BYU and then after leaving the LDS Church about 1964, he attended the University of Utah. By 1975 he was working for the Salt Lake Tribune when he was hired to be the editor-in-chief of a floundering gay newsmagazine then called the Los Angeles Advocate, later just “the Advocate.”

Robert and the magazine soon moved to San Francisco, where he hired a new staff – nearly all Gay and Lesbian ex-Mormons who had taken refuge there. These included Brent “Tommy” Harris (associate editor) from Ogden, Ray Larson (art director), and popular columnist Pat Califia – then Lesbian-identified and now a bisexual, trans man from Salt Lake. Jokingly referring to themselves as the Mormon Mafia, they used the platform of the Advocate magazine to criticize the LDS Church and its virulent anti-LGBTIQ policies of the 1970s and 80s.

Under his leadership the Advocate became a major, international newsmagazine. Brent Harris was the first of their staff (and probably the first former Mormon) to die from AIDS, in 1981. Robert himself succumbed to AIDS in 1989 in Los Angeles, at the age of 47, another bright light gone out far too soon. He was survived by his long-time companion Rafael Llanes.