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The Payne Papers

A couple of weeks ago, Eric Ethington and his friend Kyle Foote were at my house visiting. While conversing with the pair — I like to think of them as Stonewall: The Next Generation — I had mentioned the Payne Papers. Eric hadn’t a clue what they were, so I immediately knew what my next column was going to be about: The notorious Payne “In the LDS’ Ass” Papers that had so shaken up the General Authorities, that they felt they had to refute it with a covert operation.

In spring of 1977 Dr. Reed Payne, a psychology professor at Brigham Young University, presented anti-gay views on homosexuality in a lecture to his beginning psychology class. His comments weren’t well-received by some closeted gay students who were present. Soon after this lecture, BYU student Cloy Jenkins and BYU instructor Lee Williams authored a 52-page rebuttal to Dr. Payne’s assertion that homosexuality was a pathological condition. The crux of these writings became a pamphlet simply called “The Payne Papers,” which called for a “well-reasoned dialogue” on the issue of homosexuals and the LDS Church. Good luck with that.

In the essay, the “anonymous” authors explained what it was like to be gay, and asserted that homosexuality cannot be cured; that it was a state of being and not just a chosen pattern of behavior, and that those claiming to have been cured might have experienced modification of their sexual behavior but not their orientation.

“No one knows what causes homosexuality. However, we do know one thing that does not cause homosexuality and that is free choice. Until the cause or causes are known it is grossly inappropriate to moralize about it,” the papers read.

The rebuttal also warned “as the homosexual becomes less and less willing to submit to this damaging influence [humiliation and discrimination from the LDS Church,] and the rest of the world comes to realize the plight of the Mormon homosexual, the Church stands to face a very serious and embarrassing blow to its integrity.”

While Cloy Jenkins and Lee Williams were the principle authors, Ricks College faculty member Howard Salisbury and Jeff Williams, Lee Williams brother, who was also gay, contributed to the final draft of the pamphlet.

Later that summer, Salt Lake City gay activist Ken Kline solicited BYU student Donald Attridge to do a pencil sketch of the BYU campus for the cover artwork, and Kline then published “The Payne Papers” as an anonymous pamphlet. Kline, who knew a gay man who worked in the church office building’s mail room, also managed to get the pamphlet mailed to all the General Authorities, TV and radio stations, and most of the LDS church faculty at BYU and Ricks College. Doing this made it look as though the pamphlet was a BYU publication and that the church had approved it. Needless to say, LDS leaders were pissed.

The “pro-homosexuality” pamphlet flustered church officials to such a degree that in August, Allen Bergin, director of the Institute for Studies in Values and Human Behavior at BYU, was directed by LDS Social Services and BYU Comprehensive Clinic to prepare a response to “The Payne Papers.” It was entitled “A Reply to Unfounded Assertions Regarding Homosexuality.” It was dismal.

In the Sept. 1, 1977 Salt Lake City’s gay publication, The Open Door, which happened to be owned by Ken Kline,  began the serialization of the anonymous “Payne Papers.”  Then, as now, the LDS Church read the local gay news. On Sept. 15, two weeks after the serialization, BYU’s administration officially addressed the papers during a meeting of the Executive Committee of Brigham Young University.

“It was reported that the publication, The Open Door, which purports to be the voice of the Salt Lake City ‘gay community,’ has begun to reprint that letter in a series of articles over the next six months,” the minutes read. “It was indicated that Commissioner [Jeffrey] Holland and President [Dallin] Oaks are working closely with Elder Boyd K. Packer concerning this matter. It was also reported that Dr. Allen Bergin of BYU had prepared an excellent paper refuting the major claims made by homosexuals and that this paper could be helpful to the university and the church in counteracting the rather sophisticated pro-homosexuality platform by the anonymous letter which the General Authorities and others received.”

In Feb. 1978, national gay and lesbian magazine The Advocate sent out press packets to newspaper agencies across the United States regarding the upcoming publication of “The Payne Papers” in the magazine. The religion editor of a newspaper in Oregon had sent a copy of the press packet to a Mormon friend, who then forwarded it to Dallin Oaks at BYU. Oaks was so concerned about the negative publicity generated by the article that he drafted a letter to Boyd K. Packer warning him that “in view of this national publication and the accusations it makes … your [upcoming] remarks are likely to get wide newspaper coverage and to be viewed by many against the background of this article and these charges.”

In response to The Advocate’s publication of the Payne Papers, LDS Church President Spencer Kimball asked Packer to “specifically address the local problem of homosexuality and offer solutions” at a 12 Stake Fireside at BYU.  On March 5, 1978, Packer delivered his now infamous “To the One” speech, in which he told the audience that homosexuality is a curable problem when considered as a moral or spiritual matter.

The Presiding Bishop Office of the LDS Church financed BYU’s Value’s Institute attempts to rebut “The Payne Papers” through the tithing funds that church members contributed for “humanitarian projects.” The Institute for Studies in Values and Human Behavior recommended “specific steps the Church might take in combating homosexuality and other sexual misconduct” and affirmed that their “basic theme is that truth lies with the scriptures and the prophets, not with secular data or debate.”

Victor L. Brown of the Values Institute decried “the fallacious claims in the Payne Papers” as the “opposition’s attempts to indoctrinate our people.” He suggested that church authorities create a “political-action kit for use of member-citizens in local legislative efforts” to oppose gay rights.

The institute also proposed attempts to get an East Coast publisher to publish their anti-homosexuality data so it would appear as an “independent” source in support of their claims that homosexuality is curable and preventable.

By the beginning of 1980, BYU’s Institute for Studies in Values and Human Behavior hadn’t succeeded in achieving its directive to refute “The Payne Papers.” Also, Allen Bergin’s fellow professionals were challenging his scholarly objectivity and professional standing during conferences. Even BYU President Dallin Oaks became annoyed at what he perceived to be an undermining of his own authority by members of the institute. Oaks wrote Thomas Monson to explain the problems of the Bergin-Brown book on values, and to inform church officials that school administrators had become persuaded “that we cannot achieve the original objectives to the extent hoped” by having the book appear through “independent popular publishers.” Thus, that covert operation was dropped.

Eventually, Affirmation: Gay and Lesbian Mormons acquired the rights to “The Payne Papers” and republished it under the new title “Prologue.”

And that was the way it was 30 years ago with Stonewall: The First Generation.

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Ben Williams

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