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Robert I. McQueen

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Robert I. 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?"

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.
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 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 park.

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 Gay Mormon."

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.

As 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 pornography.

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.

Under McQueen's editorship, the magazine also covered the purges and acts of entrapment at Brigham Young University in the late 1970s and very early 1980s.

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."

In 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 [1978] 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 Advocate headquarters."

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 organized religion."

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 permission) 

Created: 9/28/2006 3:48:52 PM

Modified: 9/28/2006 4:37:43 PM

Biography: September 2006