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Lambda Lore

The ’70s Mormon crusade against homosexuals

Written by Ben Williams

Under the leadership of Spencer W. Kimball, the Mormon crusade against homosexuals continued at Brigham Young University for much of the 1970s. The LDS General Authorities continued to pressure BYU officials who under the administration of Dallin Oaks began campaigns to entrap students participating in homosexual behavior and purge them from the university.

The year 1979 began with an LDS General Authority — Vaughn Featherstone addressing students at a February BYU devotional about charity. Featherstone told his audience:

“It has come to our attention that many homosexuals who hide their perversion, in public cry out when among their gay groups, ‘God made us this way. We are still children of God. He understands; he knows our hearts. We faithfully hold family home evenings; we pray, we attend Church. Why don’t the Brethren understand? Why will they not listen? We were just made different. It is not our fault. God will surely judge us differently from our brethren.'”

“To condone homosexuality is not an act of charity. Perversion is perversion. Worlds without end, the homosexual cannot be exalted. … It is not charity to give hope where no hope exists.”

In April 1979, BYU’s campus newspaper, “The Daily Universe”, published a series of articles quoting BYU and church leaders condemning homosexuality. The articles stated homosexuality was not biological or inborn and that church leaders just wanted to help homosexuals overcome their problem. Homosexuality became synonymous with an alcoholic’s addiction that is curable.

However, Maxine Murdock of the BYU Counseling Center, and Ford McBride, a former psychology student who conducted BYU electroshock aversion experiments, estimated that 4 percent of BYU students, or around 1,200 students, were homosexual. This result must have been tough for Mormon authorities to accept.

In September 1979, BYU officials admitted to reporters that campus security had staked out bars in Salt Lake City to investigate homosexual activity at the Mormon owned school. Paul Richards, director of public relations for the university, confirmed that security officers had ventured off campus and had written letters to the Salt Lake gay newspaper “The Open Door” soliciting responses as part of a crackdown on homosexuals. He claimed, “Those things were done but, when President Oaks got involved, he said, ‘Cut that out right now.’”

BYU’s Security Chief Robert Kelshaw also admitted that a BYU “detective” had written an unauthorized “gay underground” letter to “The Open Door” in an attempt to entrap homosexuals attending BYU.

The admissions confirmed that, in the previous year, an elaborate sting operation was set up by BYU campus security officers to entrap gay students. Security recruited a student named John Neumann who was willing to pose as a gay man to receive college credit. Neumann wrote a letter for the November 1978 issue of “The Open Door”, stating he wanted to start a “Gay Mormon Underground” group on campus. The ad ran for several issues, well into 1979.

For years wiretapping and warrantless searches had taken place on the Provo campus in an attempt to rid the university of its homosexuals. Richards claimed that the surveillance of homosexuals had occurred before the Utah Legislature approved a controversial bill in 1979 giving statewide “peace officer status” to campus security.

Utah’s gay community remained unconvinced that surveillance of cars at the gay clubs with BYU parking stickers had ended. Bob Waldrop, and Joe Redburn, owner of The Sun, told a reporter that they suspected that BYU security officers were still staking out the bar.

The security officers ordinarily had to be appointed “deputy county sheriffs” to function off campus until 1979 when the state legislature granted them extraordinary powers. On May 10, 1979, a new state law went into effect that gave BYU’s 24 members private security force investigative and arrest powers “rivaling those of the Utah State Police.” At the time, Security Chief Kelshaw assured the public that BYU had no intention of ever using its statewide police authority and that officers were only confining their activities to the BYU campus, which was a lie.

The new police powers given to an arm of the LDS Church alarmed civil libertarian groups who feared the potential abuse of power of a police force responsible only to church officials. Shirley Pedler, director of Utah’s American Civil Liberties Union, shared these concerns. She said, “The law is blatantly unconstitutional for allowing police power to be used to enforce views, if not exclusively limited to, at least included in church doctrine.”

An expelled BYU student, David Chipman, in July 1979 contacted Neumann who had placed the ad in “The Open Door” on the BYU campus. He was unaware that Neumann was not only a novice decoy but also illegally wired.

David Attridge wrote in his journal dated July 5, 1979, “I met David Chipman who like myself was from New York State … He related that he went for a ride into the Provo Canyon with another male student who he thought was a person interested in forming a relationship with him. They arrived at a place of privacy and got comfortable. David said in a conversation with this man he touched the man’s leg.”

At that point Neumann screamed into his hidden microphone, “He touched me! He touched me! Come arrest him!” Unknown to Chipman, BYU had followed him in an unmarked car. The security officers surrounded the vehicle and told Chipman he was under arrest, even though he was not a student. The officers, acting under their new statewide jurisdiction, were not only off-campus but out of Utah County.

Attridge continued, “He was actually followed by security, entrapped by this fellow student, and was under some kind of arrest. He said he nearly drove off the road several times as the officers from BYU followed behind him back to campus to interrogate him.”

Upon learning of the arrest, Ron Stanger, a Mormon attorney, was outraged at the abuse of power by campus security and became Chipman’s attorney. Stanger wanted the case to be dismissed on the grounds of entrapment and maintained that his client was set up when he responded to a letter published in “The Open Door”.

The Provo judge, who initially tried the case, however, was a Mormon religion instructor at BYU and he refused to dismiss himself from the case for conflict of interest. The judge illegally lowered the charges from “sexual abuse” which could not be proven, to “attempted sexual abuse” and found Chipman guilty.

Chipman appealed the decision to the Utah State Supreme Court, where former BYU President Dallin Oaks then had a seat as a Supreme Court judge. Oaks dismissed himself from the case for conflict of interest, but still, the State Supreme Court upheld the lower court’s decision. Chipman, financially ruined from court costs and mentally exhausted, gave up and paid the $500 fine for the Class C Misdemeanor.

Attridge later wrote, “I was to learn … that David [Chipman] had gone to Brother Vaughn Featherstone for counsel. He was told to change his name to David Kennedy and was reported to be married. That was the desperate advice given in those days by men trusted with our eternal life.”

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Ben Williams

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