It’s a subject many think is taboo in the Mormon church, but an associate professor at Rochester Institute of Technology is creating a stir with a book of 21 short stories and four plays depicting a variety of perspectives on what it means to be gay and Mormon.
Gerald Argetsinger co-edited and wrote the introduction for Latter-Gay Saints: An Anthology of Gay Mormon Fiction which was published this week and available on Amazon.com and at selected bookstores. He is scheduling book signings in Salt Lake City, San Francisco, New York City and Rochester.
Argetsinger, who sits on the high council of the Mormon’s Rochester stake (diocese), works in the Cultural & Creative Studies department at RIT’s National Technical Institute for the Deaf. He was asked several years ago if he would contribute to a book about how the Mormon church has been depicted in pop culture. His assignment: how the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints handled homosexuality.
“No one wanted to approached the angle of gay literature. I researched it and found several works, but they shelved the book,” Argetsinger says. Fascinated about what he found, he uncovered more literature and plays with gay Mormons in conflict and used that research to speak at conferences around the country.
“I decided to put a book together with some of the stories and plays with this theme,” he says. “I thought this would be a self-published thing for a very limited audience.”
Lethe Press, a publisher specializing in gay and lesbian books, contracted to publish it. Two authors with stories in the book, Jeff Laver of Salt Lake City and Johnny Townsend of Seattle, co-edited the book with Argetsinger.
“It’s a gem of a collection,” Argetsinger says. “None of the stories are erotic. Some of them are hilariously funny.”
Argetsinger says the book will appeal to those who like good stories as well as families and friends of gay Mormons who want to understand their loved one better.
The book is already making splashes in the Washington Post and Buffalo News, in part, due to the traveling company of The Book of Mormon, which spoofs the Mormon missionary experience. And it was listed as one of the top 10 “hot sheet” newsmakers on Advocate.com.
“This is the first collection of gay-themed Mormon short stories published anywhere,” Argetsinger says. “It gives a complete spectrum of options for Mormons who are gay, including assimilation into the church, a partial assimilation into the church, leaving the church or becoming very radical.”
Argetsinger says the Mormon church “has been pretty homophobic in the past 30-40 years,” and the church led opposition of same-sex marriage in California. “Most members who were gay did not find a place in the church,” he says. “But there was no real doctrine against homosexuality. The culture and vacillating policies are the problem, not the doctrine.”
He says the church has taken steps recently to be more open, even creating a website MormonsandGays.org, which says having same-sex attraction is not a sin, but acting upon that attraction is. “With love and understanding, the church reaches out to all God’s children, including our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters,” the website says.
Argetsinger, who grew up Mormon in Klamath Falls, Ore., was director of the Hill Cumorah Pageant from 1990 to 1997, an annual event (ending this year July 20) that brings thousands of Mormons and others to a hillside near Palmyra, just east of Rochester. It’s at that site where Latter-Day Saint founder Joseph Smith is said to have found sacred writings which helped him write The Book of Mormon. Argetsinger’s wife, Gail, was the pageant’s costume designer from 1978 to 1997, and her costumes were used until 2005.
Argetsinger says this book has not jeopardized his standing in the church.
“As a matter of fact, they’re excited about the book,” he says.