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Lambda Lore

Lambda Lore: Confrontation

 The Salt Lake Tribune printed its first real article on the subject of homosexuality in April, 1970. The article, called “Confrontation: Should Laws Concern Homosexuality?” was contributed by reporter Clark Lobb. The article was in the form of a dialogue between a University of Utah sociology student, simply called Mary X, and Sergeant Max Yopse of the Salt Lake City Vice Squad, which was moderated by Lobb.

Officer Yospe was a Jewish LDS convert who later helped start the police department’s chaplain services. He was 44 years old at the time he expressed his views on homosexuality, which was typical of society at the time. Nothing is known about the anonymous Mary X, except that she was a university sociology student. She kept her anonymity due to her progressive views on gay rights although she was not gay herself. She may have been a Daily Chronicle reporter named Mary Ellen Sloan who, in 1968, wrote the first article to mention Salt Lake City having a gay bar. But that is purely conjecture.

Mary X began the article with the typical view that gay men were the product of an overbearing mother and an emotionally absent father. She stated, “There must be more understanding of why homosexuality develops because I believe homosexuals are being punished for something which really isn’t their fault. A very important part of this problem is prevention. Studies completed recently show what kinds of families lead to homosexuality, what the signs are in small boys and what can be done to stop it while they are small boys.” In her opinion, “It’s a learned patterned of behavior stemming from influences through life particularly during childhood. It’s a family situation.”

When asked if she was a homosexual, Mary X replied, “No I am not. I got involved through studies on the problems, studies both here and in San Francisco where there is a high rate of homosexuality. However my research is on the male homosexual. I know little or nothing on lesbians.”

The reporter then asked Sergeant Yopse his opinion regarding “how big is the problem (of homosexuality) in Salt Lake City?” Yopse replied, “Over a period of years we’ve had a problem here which is growing. We have a lot of bisexual men who are apparently happily married, are staunch pillars in their community, have families, have respectable positions, and are active in civic and church affairs. Every couple of months they have this tremendous urge to get out and get involved in homosexual activity. Over the years many of the homosexuals from the coast have moved in — the hippie movement — as we call it, for example.”

The reporter then asked the sergeant, “What about women homosexuals?” Yopse’s reply was “Women homosexuals are a horse of another color. Most men homosexuals are sympathetic — that is they respond to sympathetic approaches and sometimes are seeking help. A lesbian is something else. She’ll challenge anyone who suggests she’s a lesbian. She’ll fight to the bitter end that her relationships with other women are more meaningful and longer enduring then they are with the male. We don’t think too much of seeing two women holding hands or showing other physical endearments to each other, so it’s almost an acceptable thing to the public. But its intolerable to many people, moralistically speaking, to see two men showing endearments, or tokens of affection to each other.  The female is more able to keep her activities under a blanket while the man can’t very well get away with it.”

Yopse continued his views on lesbianism saying, “Yes, the majority of female homosexual cases brought to our attention involve lesbians who have recruited — and I use the word deliberately — female companions who are married and may be disillusioned with married life, problems of finances, maybe with an indifferent husband and a brood of children who are rather confining to her.”

The subject then was changed to “queer” jokes which Lobb said were “supposedly humorous stories about homosexuals.” While Yopse did not comment, Mary X told the reporter, “They can be pretty brutal and they’re not really very funny. The negative attitudes against homosexuals make these people sometimes feel inferior, that they are morally wrong, that they shouldn’t be doing what they’re doing. Some of them can get over these feelings, but a lot of them can’t. And they are a product of their family environment through no choice of their own. Society’s joking about these situations just makes them feel worse.”

The topic then changed to the laws governing homosexuality. Yopse opined, “Looking at it from the standpoint of a police officer; we are sworn to uphold the law and as far as the law is concerned, the law is the will of the people. And if the community’s mores are such that they don’t condone this type of action, then we’re sworn to uphold the law. Basically we do not break into people’s homes seeking homosexuals. But our problem is, the law states any time a man has a sexual relationship with a person of the same sex, that it’s against the law. It’s called sodomy in its various degrees.”

Yopse went on to explain why the police found gay cruising dangerous. He said, “They’re felonies and many of these acts are not between two men of equal age. They’re generally — and we find this to be the ever prevalent thing — that these men tire of their relationships with other males of their own peers and they seek out — we call it “cruise” — and indoctrinate youthful victims to this type of thing. It’s not uncommon to have male homosexuals spend countless hours of seductive way to get young people recruited. The women maintain their activities under a cloak and you don’t hear too much about them, although we do maintain a file. Here again, they’ll go after women of younger and more tender years. Homosexuals have to be screened out on jobs such as scout masters, life guards (male and female). You’d be surprised how many times overt homosexuality occurs among adult-youth groups generally respected and believed to be strictly above board and beneficial to youth.”

Mary X was then asked if she thought the laws were too severe. Her answer was, “I don’t think they do much good. The law against assault is one to 10 years in prison. The law against sodomy is three to 20 years. I don’t understand why? But [the laws] don’t stop it.”

Sergeant Yopse chimed in, “What the law provides for punishment is not up for you or me to say individually. That is a matter of legislation and if we object to it then we should strive to have a more uniform law provided with more uniform sentencing.”

When Mary X began to express her feelings about the law punishing consenting adults for what they do in private or whether society should condone homosexuality or not, the vice officer cut her off saying,  “You say you feel. We’re not interested in your feelings, Mary, we are interested in facts, in documentation in statistics. You say you don’t feel the laws keep homosexuality from going on. Sure there are lots of things that go on, but how much more prevalent they would be if we relaxed the laws.”

Then Yopse reiterated the predominate societal opinion that homosexual conduct needed to be illegal. He said, surely with a hint of sarcasm, “That would be lovely wouldn’t it? To have [laws against homosexuality] abolished, as it has been in England, to have a homosexual couple move in next door to you — perhaps a married woman with a family — and begun to make their amorous approaches on the patio to have children look out of their windows and see this type of activity going continuously. And as they grow up, they will think there is nothing wrong with it. Two men can go out and make love to each other and have sex relations — [It is] abnormal in that they are nonproductive and have no Godly satisfaction.”

Mary X protested Yopse’s insinuation of her position and said, “I said in private — not on a patio or any other place open to public view, but in private.”

Sgt. Yopse countered with the argument, “How are you going to regulate it in private any more than England has been able to do? It hasn’t worked there. You talk about homosexuals, who’ll be honest with you, and he’ll soon tell you that, [if] he’s been a homosexual for any length of homosexuality or bisexual, he’ll go out to the public restrooms, to the libraries, and to restrooms in parks, and solicit activity with younger men and boys.”

The article concluded with Yopse continuing his diatribe that most homosexual men were pedophiles and could not be trusted in positions involving boys. There was no rebuttal, or if there was one, it was not included.

And so it was in 1970 in Salt Lake City as a small group of Gay Liberationists were emerging from their commune in the lower Avenues. They would change everything. Within five years Salt Lake City had an openly gay and lesbian community in spite of the laws.

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Ben Williams

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