On Feb. 25, 2007, I wrote in my journal, “What horribly sad news. Michael Aaron called me tonight from the Utah AIDS Foundation Oscar Night to tell me that Kathy Worthington had died.” I went to my email immediately and saw that her family had posted a message: “Dear Kathy’s List readers, friends and acquaintances, We are writing to inform you all that Kathy Worthington passed away a few days ago. Kathy’s life touched many, so many that we are already overwhelmed by the number of those who looked up to, appreciated, and loved her.” Then I wrote also that day, “What a blow to our community.”
I had just sent an email, [yes the days before Facebook], to Kathy on the 22nd to let her know I was thinking of her and Sara Hamblin, as the 21st was the first anniversary of Sara’s passing. Little did I know that Kathy had taken her life that day not wishing to live any longer without the love of her life, Sara and probably never read my message.
Worthington’s personal life was filled with tragedy. Her father was murdered in 1984 in St. George and her brother, Richard, committed suicide at Ely State Prison in Nevada in 1993. He had been convicted of storming Alta View Hospital taking eight people hostage and killing a nurse in 1991. Her recent losses were a brother who died of cancer in 2000, her mother who died in 2005 and her wife Sara Hamlin in 2006, also from cancer.
With all the personal tragedy, Worthington was a powerhouse to say the least and was a “mover and shaker” in the community from the moment she came out in 1989 as a gay woman, the term she preferred.
Kathy was born Oct. 20, 1950 in Salt Lake City and grew up in a true believing Mormon family. She was active in her church until her teenage years when the church’s racism and patriarchy disturbed her so much that she decided to leave the faith. Friction with her father over the LDS Church became intolerable and she left home in 1969 at the age of 18.
Kathy went to Mexico in 1972 to study Spanish and while there married and had two daughters. Kathy busied herself helping to build a community for the poor in Mexico and taught English there for three years.
She had been completely non-religious since 1969, and in 1979 Kathy formally resigned from the LDS church. The church had worked very hard to keep the Equal Rights Amendment from being adopted nationally and Kathy had become a feminist.
In those years one couldn’t just resign from the church. One had to ask to be excommunicated. She thought there was something intrinsically wrong with the church’s refusal to let a person resign, and in the late 1990’s she created a website, “Mormon No More,” to help people get their names removed from the records without being excommunicated.
Kathy helped thousands of gay people and many of her supporters resigned from the LDS church because of anger over the church’s anti-gay crusades in Hawaii, Alaska and California. Beginning in the mid-1990’s, the church focused its attention on the issue of same-sex marriage and, in 1999, was heavily involved in California’s Proposition 22, which defined marriage as only between a man and a woman. Kathy was one of the leading opponents to the church’s involvement that passed in 2000.
Kathy once told a reporter, “When I figured out that loving women was an option for me (after years of no relationships at all), it was not difficult the way it would have been if I’d still been a member of the church. Coming out and becoming part of Salt Lake’s gay community was a pretty smooth transition for me. I had discovered a whole new community and a new way of life. I loved it.”
When Kathy came out she organized women’s social and support groups, planned political rallies and was on the board of the Utah Stonewall Center in its early days. She founded the Womyn’s Community Newsletter in April of 1991, out of her own pocket, which was published for four years. One cannot overstate the influence this publication played in creating a cohesive lesbian community in Utah 25 years ago.
In 1992, Kathy met and fell in love with Sara Hamblin, who had been her partner for 14 years. Hamblin was Kathy’s “wife, life partner and best friend.” The couple participated in political rallies, protests, and were involved in the Gay and Lesbian Community Council of Utah as well serving on many committees such as Gay Pride Day.
Kathy and Sara were married at “The Wedding,” which was the huge group union ceremony performed at the March on Washington for Lesbian, Gay, and Bi Equal Rights and Liberation. Kathy and Sara were legally married in Canada in 2003, but both passed away before witnessing the Supreme Court ruling on Marriage Equality. In their 14 years together they traveled widely, visiting 17 countries, as well as much of the United States.
Sara was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1995. “They immediately became experts on the disease. Through their studies and determination, they successfully fought off the disease for 11 years.”
Kathy worked for the United States Postal Service since 1986 until her death. In 1997, two years after Sara was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer, Kathy fought the U.S. Postal Service to be allowed to take open-ended leave to care for Sara under the 1993 Family and Medical Leave Act. Her request was denied twice, but she tried one more time and won approval. Kathy was granted leave in May of 1997 to care for Sara during her cancer treatments: “a highly celebrated victory for the Gay community.” Then she battled the hospital that refused to name her as Sara’s “spouse” and won.
Unfortunately, Sara died Feb. 21, 2006. Kathy was devastated and wrote on her Kathy’s List web page, “Now, friends and family are helping me get through the days as I work to adjust to life without Sara.”
After losing her sweetheart, Kathy had fallen into a deep depression, stopped participating in the community and let her friends “fall by the wayside.” She took her own life a year and a day after Sara died and their ashes were mingled together as they wished.
Those who knew Kathy best describe her as “amazing, vibrant, compassionate, good and gentle,” “a good soul,” a “courageous and fearless leader,” and full of life.
Kathy was 56 years old, and the good she did in this world is still prevalent 10 years after her passing. She was a “persistent” woman.
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