SALT LAKE CITY (AP) - Their voices emerged decades ago.
Long before the courts legalized gay marriage in Utah, they were speaking.
They came out in the 1960s, ‘70s and ‘80s, taking enormous risks to build Utah’s LGBT community and pave the way for change.
These are some of their memories.
As the manager and owner of the Sun Tavern, once Utah’s most prominent gay bar, Nikki Boyer became the mother hen of an LGBT scene that in the 1970s and ‘80s was finding its place somewhere between the underground and the open air.
“We had no rights, but we were rich in gay bars,” recalls Boyer, now 72. “This is where we felt safe. It was the only place we felt safe. We were afraid to go outside because of the gay bashers.”
One night while she was tending bar, a basher came to them. A man burst through the door, brandishing a sawed-off shotgun.
“Immediately about three big women jumped up, grabbed him, grabbed the gun, took him outside, and proceeded to pummel him,” she says.
Inside The Sun, patrons went for more than food and drinks.
“That was basically the first place people went” after coming out, Boyer says. Many of her customers had lost their families and friends. Some had “internalized homophobia.”
Her most haunting memories: “Gays who had undergone ‘reparative’ therapy.” Some recounted shock treatment and induced vomiting while viewing pornography, to create negative associations, she says. Some had lobotomies.
Safety - personal safety, economic security, protection from discrimination - was the most urgent need Boyer could see as she watched LGBT advocacy drift from the underground to outward political action. Boyer balked as marriage went from “not even anything” to a major platform.
“I was one of the people saying, ‘Shut up! This is not the issue to push for. Start with anti-discrimination laws,’” she says.
But things changed. Her partner of more than 20 years, Ann Hart, died three years ago. A medical examiner would not release Hart’s body to Boyer for a funeral “because I wasn’t family.” Hart’s mother, in her 90s, had to sign a waiver from her nursing home to give Boyer custody. Meanwhile, marriage was happening in other states.
“It’s going to be easier now,” Boyer says. “I can see the dominoes falling.”
The chilling legacy of “reparative” therapy in Utah strikes at what may be the No. 1 development in LGBT advocacy: Recognition by science, the public, and even many religions that being gay is not a choice.
Widely reported and documented “treatments” rooted in physical pain and violent thought associations have been rejected by modern psychiatry. But, as Connell O’Donovan looks back on what he describes as “psychologically devastating” hypnotherapy, the bad science is less troubling than the fact that he so desperately wanted it to work.
“I thought it was God’s will,” says O’Donovan, who was LDS. “I was terrified of spending eternity in hell or the Telestial Kingdom because I was gay.”
Reeling from a breakup in 1986, O’Donovan scheduled an appointment with an LDS psychologist who practiced a type of hypnotherpy “he was really sure would be successful,” O’Donovan says. The therapist had O’Donovan sit in one of two recliners in the office and instructed him, under hypnosis, to “envision splitting myself into Gay Connell and Straight Connell,” he said. Gay Connell sat in the empty recliner, and O’Donovan, as “Straight Connell,” was to watch Gay Connell’s demise.
“He would have me envision Jesus coming down through the ceiling and trampling Gay Connell to dust. Then the wind would come and blow Gay Connell away.
“It was my body, my identity,” O’Donovan says. “There wasn’t a Straight Connell there.”
O’Donovan says he tried this three or four times. He remembers walking away from his final session, “bawling my eyes out.”
The wind picked up and whipped around him as it did in the hypnotic vision.
“I kind of felt like the wind was blowing the dust particles back into me and reassembling me,” he says. “I had an epiphany that I wasn’t going anywhere.”
Becky Moss is an open book.
Being a lesbian was never a secret; she says her parents began discussing the possibility when she was 2. They both were supportive of her relationships.
She has been a vocal activist in Utah, hosting a radio program on LGBT issues for more than 20 years.
But Moss won’t discuss the bump on her arm.
It’s an old scar from a broken bone in a long war whose wounds still feel too fresh. Moss says she’s not ready to disclose more details of her assault except to say it was connected to her sexual orientation. Violence, she says, was understood to be the possible cost of her voice, heard weekly on KRCL from 1981 to 2003.
“Back in the day, it was terrifying,” she says. “It was common for me to receive postcards in the mail threatening to bomb the station. People on the air made phone calls that were violent, threatening to kill me.
“It became the norm. I became inured to the violence that was being directed towards me. I would joke about it’s funny. Then (I’d) go home and throw up.”
As gay and lesbian couples picked up marriage licenses this week - casually, like other couples, Moss reflected on the collective battle scars: the beatings, the suicides, the rapes, the missing person reports, the eulogies by disapproving families and religious leaders hoping to expedite her dearest friends to hell.
The courts’ decision “means that the fight for LGBT civil rights is real and it’s justifiable,” Moss says. “We really were right to continue to fight like this.”
Information from: The Salt Lake Tribune, https://www.sltrib.com
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