Robert I. McQueen
McQueen was a prominent gay Mormon missionary, editor and activist.
With the help of the Affirmation Los Angeles Chapter (organized on 28
January 1978), the first major publication challenging the LDS Church's stance
on homosexuality was published around July of that year. It was referred to as
"The Payne Papers" or "The Payne Letters" early on, but by the time of formal
publication, it evolved into Prologue. Earlier that year, The
Advocate published a condensed version of the letters following the
example of Salt Lake City's gay paper The Open Door, that had
disseminated them in Utah in the fall 1977 issues.
Robert I. McQueen,
editor of The Advocate, reflected in an 22 February 1978 editorial
appearing in the same issue as his condensed version of the Payne Letters. In
it, he told of his interest in seeing this publication circulated:
Reading and editing the "Payne Letter" ("The Heterosexual
Solution: A dilemma for the gay Mormon") was an enormously difficult and,
indeed, painful experience for me. It called up with amazing intensity, the
self-loathing, fear, desperation and loneliness I felt for nearly 20 years
while wrestling with an internal conflict between what I choose to believe
(Mormonism) and what I was a gay person." Robert then related a
very personal LDS mission experience in the early 1960s LDS Austrian Mission.
Elder McQueen had given up on God loving him because of being gay. "It angered
me," The Advocate editor later confessed, "that a 'loving' God could be
so unfair." One day in "the middle of a blinding blizzard, nearly blinded by my
tears and the heavy snow," the young missionary left his companion and ended up
in a Vienna park.
As alone as I have ever boon, I shook my umbrella at the sky and,
in a rage, screamed: "You're a rotten God if you hate me because I'm gay. How
can I believe in you?"Robert
reminded the author of Prologue, and others who wanted to change the
system from within the Mormon Church, that it was "an enormously difficult and
frustrating task with equally enormous rewards. I wish them well and remind them
through it all, to believe in themselves and what they are doing."
The snow stopped with my words. Stunned, I stood
there in the evening hush listening to a calm, firm voice say: "Believe only
in yourself." Had I had a vision? No, I recognized the voice. It was my own,
and it filled me with a sense of calm and assurance I had never known before.
Years of guilt and blame were wiped away in that instant.
Price, Utah native returned from his mission and in 1964 left the LDS Church
after seeing five gay friends commit suicide that year. All of them had
unresolved issues with being gay and Mormon theology. They hadn't had the
reassuring spiritual experience McQueen experienced in that snowy Vienna
On 13 August 1975, McQueen made Advocate literary history.
For the first time, the national gay and lesbian magazine reported on an
experience of a gay Mormon in an article titled "Outside the Temple Gates - The
Now, in 1978, this "darkly handsome and discerning," former
Ogden, Utah resident, was the editor-and-chief of The Advocate. Leaving a
position with the Salt Lake Tribune and the University of Utah, he
assumed the editorship on 17 November 1975. Shortly after he arrived, the
fledgling gay newsmagazine moved its headquarters from Los Angeles to San
Francisco, California, leaving the majority of its staff behind.
the editor, McQueen made sure the publication reported on any noteworthy gay
news involving the Mormon Church. He even reported on President Spencer W.
Kimball's October 1975 General Conference address linking homosexuality to
As part of the magazine's tenth anniversary issue (2
November 1977), there was an announcement about a new support group for Mormon
gays and lesbians. In past years, other organizations of this type had been
reported by the magazine only to never be heard from again. Mormon gays were
trying to organize and look out for each other since no one else would. Unlike
the others, this new group was different. It came at the right time, with the
right leadership and it had sticking power. Called Affirmation/GMU (Gay Mormons
United), it would revise its name to Affirmation: Gay and Lesbian Mormons.
Founder Steve Zakharias (a.k.a. Matthew Price) told The Advocate, "We
have said, 'We've had enough.' Gay people are not second-class citizens. We are
children of God. We are important people and we have just as much worth as our
heterosexual brothers and sisters in the Church." Though he didn't tell the
magazine, Steve's motivation for organizing this group was the 1976-1977
suicides of two of his close BYU friends, Ryan and Jared.
McQueen's editorship, the magazine also covered the purges and acts of
entrapment at Brigham Young University in the late 1970s and very early
The 15 May 1980 issue of The Advocate featured homophobic
quotes of President Kimball. They came out of his 1969 Miracle of
Forgiveness. In a June 28 essay examining the gay liberation movement,
McQueen reflected on his growing up experiences. As a Utah Mormon, he felt he
was the only gay person in the world.
Affirmation leader Paul Mortensen
was part of a 1982 article on gays and religion. Mortensen stated that he
"want[ed] to change the Church rather than leave it," a view he no longer
espouses. He continued with the 1982 hope of Affirmation: "[W]e don't want to
throw out everything just because they are wrong on this one point."
1983, BYU's public relations director Paul Richards was reported telling the
University's student chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists that
censorship in the media "isn't unique to BYU." It was "part of the trade." He
stated that "'certain subjects such as homosexuality, are taboo on the
university radio and cable-television stations and in the daily paper. The
community isn't able to handle discussion of that subject." Richards also
explained that the LDS church "uses the university's communications department
'as a tool to reach the world.'"
All this chatter about the Mormon
Church's treatment of gays finally caught up with Robert. A year and four months
after sharing his mission experience, he "ended his thorny relationship with the
Mormon Church." McQueen was excommunicated on 20 June 1979. Latter-day Saint
leaders "regarded his prominent role as the [gay newsmagazine's] new editor with
considerable dismay." His "excommunication process began after McQueen published
a strong critique on the Mormon position on homosexuality in the 
Advocate." The Editor ignored Mormon leaders' summons to appear before
the church's High Council court in San Francisco explaining "'he had no contact
in any way' with the Church since he left it in 1964." A colleague later
reflected, "Try as they might, they could not convince McQueen to return to the
fold, so church elders, armed with an impressive document, showed up at
According to the magazine, "church elders
publicly expelled McQueen from the Church, conducting the expulsion in the lobby
of The Advocate's offices. Meanwhile, McQueen sat at his desk, calmly
working on the next issue of the magazine." The elders were probably delivering
the excommunication letter, rather than holding the court.
It is unknown
exactly which one of Robert's writings fueled the church charges. Most likely it
was "The Heterosexual Solution." After his excommunication, Robert "was not
afraid," one associate remembered, "to write about his troubles with the
Mormons, nor to publish about the struggles of other gay man and lesbians with
Robert's activism lasted throughout the rest his
editorship with the newsmagazine. One biographer reflected in the early 1990s
"he was fearless about most matters of importance to his readers, and ushered in
a new era of incisive journalism and lively coverage on a wide range of topics."
Because of his love of composing music and poetry, Robert "put a high emphasis
on cultural reporting."
Articles [appeared in The Advocate] on opera appeared as
frequently as pieces on disco, and believing above all else that reading
mattered, he devoted numerous pages to the coverage of authors and their
books. Famous names from all areas of the arts consented to be interviewed:
Gore Vidal and Christopher Isherwood (in the first of their many Advocate
profiles), Bette Midler and Lily Tomlin (both interviewed by Vito Russo near
the beginning of their--and his--enterprising careers), and a surprising
parade of others, from Beverly Sills to Timothy Leary. Political analysis and
news writing were also greatly improved; Randy Shilts began a series of
groundbreaking pieces about health problems then troubling the gay community,
and Sasha Gregory-Lewis expanded coverage of women's issues and zealously
delved into investigating the New Right's homophobic agenda.
Under Robert's tutelage, America's mainstream media finally began to notice
their counter part in America's counter culture. Robert's boundless energy and
passion for the publication was also seen when he added "[f]resh talent, like
associate editor Brent Harris and art director Ray Larson (who had been friends
of McQueen from his Salt Lake City days)…, [to the] staff…." Both Harris and
Larson added "their keen abilities to producing an ambitious publication with
limited resources every two weeks."
Besides importing talented friends
from Utah, Robert also brought a "sophisticated sensibility" to the publication
especially during the late '70s and early '80s. Facing such magazine troubles as
the "very few national [advertising] accounts, aside from an occasional liquor
or record company [who were] willing to take the [gay magazine] plunge," Robert
remained focused and dedicated.
Tragically, as with so many gay leaders
in the 1980s, Robert's vivacious energy started running out with the onslaught
of HIV. Exhausted after ten-years as editor, he now saw the magazine coming
under increased criticism for acting like an "old gay lady," and seeing it move
from Los Angeles to San Francisco and then back again to Southern
California--this time to cramped quarters in Hollywood he needed to look
elsewhere for work. In 1985, Robert took a position at Liberation Publications
Inc. (LPI), The Advocate's parent company, where he remained until he
passed away of AIDS-related complications in 1989 at the young age 47.
(This biography was written by Jay Bell for the Affirmation web site: www.affirmation.org/memorial/robert_mcqueen.shtml where
the author's footnotes and references can be found. Reprinted by
Created: 9/28/2006 3:48:52 PM
Modified: 9/28/2006 4:37:43 PM
Biography: September 2006