Gerald Argetsinger 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 approach the angle of gay literature. I researched it and found several works, but they shelved the book,” says Argetsinger, an associate professor of cultural and creative studies at the National Technical Institute for the Deaf.
Fascinated by 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.
Lethe Press, which specializes in publishing gay- and lesbian-themed books, contracted to publish a book of 21 short stories and four plays depicting a variety of perspectives on what it means to be gay and Mormon. Argetsinger wrote the introduction and co-edited the book with two of the authors, Jeff Laver of Salt Lake City and Johnny Townsend of Seattle.
“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 ones better.
“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 to 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.”
Argetsinger, who grew up Mormon in Klamath Falls, Ore., was director of the Hill Cumorah Pageant from 1990 to 1997, an event that brings thousands of Mormons and others to a hillside near Palmyra, just east of Rochester. Argetsinger’s wife, Gail, was the pageant’s costume designer from 1978 to 1997, and her costumes were used until 2005.
Argetsinger continues to serve on the high council in the Mormon’s Rochester stake (diocese). This book has not jeopardized his standing in the church.
“As a matter of fact, they’re excited about the book,” he says.