The Flamingo Years: A
Marty Beaudet, September 1992
Stan Roberts, 1984-1989 bishop of the San Francisco Singles Ward
First issue of the Flamingo News, May 1988. Enlarge
Ad for the LDS AIDS Project, officially endorsed by the San Francisco
Singles Ward. Flamingo News, October 1988.
The selling of Flamingo News T-shirts (hot pink on black) and
LDS AIDS Project T-shirts (Navy on white, or Navy on light blue)
helped fund the San Francisco Singles Ward AIDS initiative. Flamingo
News, June-July 1989 and Fall 1989, p. 8.
Third annual Far-Side Russian River campout & retreat, 11-12 August
1989. Flamingo News, Fall 1989, p. 18. Enlarge.
Marty Beaudet (left) and friend mug for the camera in drag at a church
event in the San Francisco Stake Center. Flamingo News, June
Members of the original gay support group who first met at Bishop
Stan Roberts' home on March 8, 1987. From left to right: Roy Mitchell,
Michael Collins, Marty Beaudet, and Jim
Lemmon. Picture taken in Hollywood during Affirmation's
national conference, October 7-9, 1988. Flamingo News,
November 1988, p. 1.
LDS AIDS Project Director, Jim Lemmon, counsels a client. Project
volunteers received training in the San Francisco Singles Ward.
Flamingo News, July 1989, p. 9.
Members of the San Francisco Singles Ward display the LDS AIDS
Project banner during the San Francisco Lesbian/Gay Freedom Day
Parade, 25 June 1989. Flamingo News, July 1989, pp. 1, 9.
Left to right: Lonn McIntosh, Morten Anzjon, and Jean Perry of the San Francisco Singles Ward, march to help promote the LDS AIDS Project during the San Francisco Lesbian/Gay Freedom Day
Parade, 25 June 1989, followed by the Affirmation San Francisco Chapter. Flamingo News, July 1989, p. 12. Enlarge
Items displayed at the LDS AIDS Project information booth. San Francisco Lesbian/Gay Freedom Day
Parade, 25 June 1989. Flamingo News, July 1989, p. 12.
By Marty Beaudet
Originally published in Affinity, April-September 1991
For years rumors have circulated among Mormons, gay and straight alike,
about the goings-on in the San Francisco Singles Ward. Former Bishop
Stan Roberts' name has been had for good and for evil throughout Mormondom
because he welcomed disenfranchised gays and lesbians into his ward.
While many know of the weekly meetings of a gay support group at the
Bishop's home, few have understood the dynamics of the group. How did
it come about? Who was responsible? Why was one bishop willing to take
such a risk? What was accomplished? Where are they now?
While some are skeptical about the tangible benefits achieved by Stan's
pioneers, others remain convinced that the whole process was an inspired
one meant to pave the way for an ultimate acceptance of gays and lesbians
in the mainstream Church. For the next several months, Affinity
will present a retrospective on those very significant years and years
and try to answer some of the lingering questions that remain in regard
to the "Flamingo years" in San Francisco.
Life had suddenly become more serious. Gay men everywhere had begun
weighing the risks and rewards of becoming involved in casual relationships.
Fears and concerns about AIDS had caused many to re-evaluate their priorities.
Like others, I too had become more introspective. In some ways, I was
happy for an excuse to stay home with a good book rather than hanging
out in loud and smoky bars.
One Saturday night (Sunday morning to be exact) I woke up about 3 a.m.
unable to sleep. As I lay staring at the ceiling my thoughts drifted
back to significant people who had long since disappeared from my life.
It occurred tome that a large number of them had been in the Church;
missionaries, roommates, friends at BYU. I had no idea where they were
I didn't have to wonder why, though. Five years earlier, I had left
BYU and the Church, convinced that I was going to hell and may as well
find some small pleasures along the way. My homosexuality was too shameful
a thing to admit to my dearest friends, so I just disappeared without
looking back. All of a sudden I missed those people terribly that night.
Why had I given up so much for so little?
I began to realize how much I had in common with those people; common
hopes, values and experiences. I longed to have friends like those again,
with whom I shared more than a mere physical bond. I wanted my
I resolved to visit the local singles' ward the following Sunday. After
all, didn't I have as much right to go as anyone else? What could they
do to me--stone me? For the first time in my life I realized that being
gay and Mormon didn't have to be mutually exclusive. The "contract"
between me and the Church was simple, I reasoned; I was expected to
refrain from sex, but not from admitting my homosexuality. Since sex
had become such an infrequent occurrence in my life I was ready to give
it up altogether for the kind of fellowship the Church had once offered
me. Heck, even if they wanted to excommunicate me, they couldn't keep
me from attending and making friends.
I sat on the back row as planned. I knew that if this ward were like
any other there would be more than one hand-shaker to dodge. I wanted
an easy escape if it got too uncomfortable. I don't remember the sacrament
talks that day, nor do I remember all the people who did indeed shake
my hand. What I do remember is agreeing to a Tuesday appointment with
a disarming bishop who had wasted no time in asking my name. Stan Roberts
was about to change my life, as well as many others' over the next 40
months. This was the beginning of the Flamingo Years.
I had rehearsed well for that interview. I was ready for the inevitable.
In fact, I was glad to be getting it over with. A Stake President in
Provo had promised me excommunication over 5 years earlier, only I left
town before it could be arranged. I had no doubt that the time had finally
I would look this bishop squarely in the eye and acknowledge my sexual
orientation without shame. He would ask some belabored questions, squirming
in his chair, and finally tell me that he had no choice but to send
me to the Stake President. A court would be convened, in which I would
refuse to "go straight," and my membership would be revoked. Case closed.
It took me only moments to realize, however, that with Stan Roberts
it was not to be so. His response to my declaration that I was gay was
so atypical as to astound me. He said, with genuine concern, "Oh? Do
you have a lover?" When I answered that I didn't, he asked, "Are you
Here was a bishop who seemed to understand that being gay was not about
sex in restrooms and back alleys; that gay men's concerns included health
issues and meaningful relationships. Even when I told him to go ahead
and "get it over with" he refused to consider a court. He just wanted
to talk. The conversations we had over the ensuing months were rarely
profound, but the fact that someone in his position was really interested
in learning what it was like to be gay was nothing short of incredible.
I looked forward to our every meeting.
Reach Out, Support Group Formed
The regular meetings with Bishop Roberts were unlike many such meetings
between gay men and their ecclesiastical leaders. While the latter almost
always seem to focus on therapy, repentance and renouncing one's orientation,
Stan chose to pursue learning, adapting and seeking a spiritual equilibrium.
In fact, it seemed that he was doing most of the learning himself. He
was always anxious to understand the challenges facing gay Mormons.
As our talks proceeded, and he encouraged me to accept priesthood callings
in the ward, it became clear that I was not the only gay man in the
bishop's weekly appointment book. I was reasonably sure of two or three
kindred spirits, but had not discussed the subject with any of them.
None of us seemed to want to. That is, until Roy showed up.
I was sitting at the Sacrament table that Sunday. It afforded me the
opportunity to survey the congregation without craning my neck. Shortly
after the service had started, a nice-looking man strode into the chapel
and found a seat on the back row. It took only seconds for my "gaydar"
to identify him as a "friend of Dorothy." After the meeting, I made
a point of saying hello before he could slip out the door. While I danced
around the subject of sexual orientation, trying to be subtle, Roy wasted
no time in asking, almost rhetorically, "You're gay, aren't you?" His
candidness, which at first caught me off-guard, was (and always has
been) Roy's trademark. It proved to be a valuable asset over the ensuing
months as we struggled to define our concerns to an eagerly listening
Despite what many might think, I was motivated to speak to Roy more
by my eagerness to tell someone about my experience than by personal
pursuits. I wanted other gay men to find what I had found in that ward.
I wanted them all to meet Stan Roberts. This was easier said than done,
Shortly after I accepted a call to be a home teacher, the routes were
redistributed according to zip codes. Since I lived in the world's "gayest"
(94114), it was no surprise to discover that a majority of my home teachees
were gay. This presented both an opportunity and a challenge, since
my assigned companion hadn't a clue that he was smack in the middle
of the infamous "Castro."
The first home-teaching challenge was to get appointments with gay men,
many of whom had come to San Francisco to escape the Church's influence.
I tackled this in much the same way as I had approached Roy--by dropping
subtle hints. The difficulty lay in identifying myself to them without
revealing either of us to my companion. It wasn't really as sinister
as it may sound; I just didn't want to make anyone too uncomfortable.
Eventually, (and I sincerely believe God paved the way), the perfect
opportunity arrived to begin the dialogue. Having been called as a counselor
in the Elders' Quorum, I was in a position to assign my own home-teaching
companion. I chose Roy. It wasn't long before all the closet doors were
flung open and home teaching visits took on a much greater significance
than ever before. On countless occasions we marveled at the delicious
irony of gay home teachers visiting gay members. The conversations were
anything but the usual ill-prepared, awkwardly delivered messages. Not
surprisingly, our home-teaching statistics were among the best the ward
had seen. Few but the bishop understood why.
It was about this time that the bishop began to express a desire to
gather several gay ward members to discuss our concerns together. He
admitted that he felt rather inadequate to resolve the issues himself,
and thought that perhaps we could all learn more from each other. He
finally persuaded four of us--Michael, Jim, Roy and me--to come to his
home in Belmont for brunch and a "casual conversation."
I was at first reluctant, as was Michael, the bishop's second counselor,
not wanting to drag skeletons and painful memories out of the closet.
Roy was intrigued by the idea, but wondered if he might not be too cynical
for the rest of us. At this point, Jim was still an unknown to all but
the bishop, and perhaps Michael. He had arrived quietly in the ward
and was then serving as the membership clerk. He was so obscure that
my "gaydar" had missed him completely, though we had shaken hands on
numerous occasions. This would soon change.
I remember the feeling of exhilaration I felt that first Saturday at
the Roberts' home. It was exciting to be making history, as it were.
Not only was this a unique experience for each of us, there was a sense
that it was a significant one for all gay and lesbian Mormons. Given
that we were only five people, this might at first seem preposterous,
yet we would all later reflect on our mutual feelings that the whole
process was orchestrated from on high.
The one thing that struck me about the four-hour discussion we had that
day was the sheer profundity of the feelings expressed. On the surface
we had each presented ourselves as calm, cool and at peace with ourselves,
our church and gay issues. The conversation, however, revealed a cauldron
of turbulent magma bubbling just below the snow-capped peaks. In retrospect,
I now see that the ensuing "eruptions" were necessary, not only to release
years of pressure, but also to build taller and more majestic mountains.
Michael was a case study in volcanoes. He had been through years of
"traditional" Church approaches to the gay issue, including Church courts,
degrading interviews, and eventual reinstatement to full fellowship.
He had done everything "right" and his misery was evident. The monkey
may have been off his back, but the demons were still within.
I will never forget one exchange with Michael which proved to be somewhat
prophetic. I was waxing eloquent about how easy it had been for me to
sacrifice sexual activity for the fellowship I was finding in the Church
at that time. With a sincerity born of personal pain Michael responded,
"That's okay, if it works for you. But come back and tell me that after
seven years of being an emotional zombie because you're afraid to let
anyone get close to you."
As the bishop's counselor, Michael had had the opportunity (though not
one he relished) to be one of the first to educate Stan Roberts on what
it meant to be gay and Mormon. Stan would later remark what a profound
effect his relationship with Michael had had on his life. He attributed
his "liberal," compassionate stance on gay issues to that experience.
He told of having watched Michael's compassion--and concern for others
when he first met him and said, "I had it in my head that this is why
people are gay, and when I met [Michael], he didn't fit my stereotype.
It was frustrating because I kept trying to put him into a mold and
he wouldn't fit."
Michael is just one example of the way in which we would all change
each other's lives over the next few years. More importantly, perhaps,
were the changes that would be effected in lives and attitudes far beyond
that inauspicious little gathering in a loving bishop's home.
Word of Support Group Spreads; Responses Vary
Whether by coincidence or divine direction I cannot say, LDS Social
Services had approached Bishop Roberts about leading a weekly support
group for homosexuals just days before our first planned gathering in
his home. This unsolicited sponsorship became our first topic of discussion
Some of us, (as well as many of our friends), had dealt with LDS Social
Services in the past and we were skeptical of their motives now. Were
they trying to reign the bishop in? Did they want our names for disciplinary
reasons? Did they plan to "cure" us through some bizarre therapy? (Their
earlier practice of shock aversion therapy
was all too familiar to us.)
Stan felt, however, that David Willis, the counselor from the Fremont
office who had suggested a weekly support group, was sincere and could
be trusted. We finally agreed to meet for 3 hours every Saturday in
the bishop's home.
None of us had originally intended to meet so often and we wondered
if that might not be too much for the bishop to handle. He had his own
doubts, too, but it seemed important to Social Services that we maintain
the continuity of the discussions.
Word traveled quickly about "the group" and in only a few weeks we had
grown from four to six, with many others asking questions. Inquiries
came not only from gay men interested in participating, but from ward
members and Church leaders who wondered if Stan Roberts wasn't going
a bit too far.
While Stan continued to reassure his Priesthood leaders and concerned
ward members, the group continued to grow. For several months we continued
to operate primarily as a support group, providing an outlet and a sympathetic
ear to any and all who needed to "purge" themselves of years of hurt
and anger. Interestingly, most of those who came each Saturday were
active Church members. While Affirmation (at least locally) was buzzing
about the phenomenon, the vast majority of its members chose to keep
a comfortable distance.
The Bishop saw in the group, however, a potential role far greater than
that of a casual discussion group. He would often ask group members
who related stories of personal suffering, "What can we do to prevent
this from happening to others? What do we want the Church to do? How
can we help the kids that are just beginning to deal with it?"
While Stan's motives were rooted in spiritual concerns, these were definitely
"political" questions. There was no way to propose solutions without
addressing the Church politics which contributed to the problem. This
was shaky ground for those who worried about their Church membership,
yet Stan's role as bishop provided the security we needed to move forward.
Stan asked group participants to identify specific topics that needed
to be addressed. These included definitions of homosexuality, issues
of self-esteem, suicide, and adverse
therapies, among others. The Bishop then assigned each member of
the group one topic on which to prepare a paper. His intention was to
submit these papers through designated Priesthood channels, beginning
with an oral presentation to the Stake Presidency. These essays would
eventually make their way all the way to the First Presidency. The Bishop
was convinced that the General Authorities would hear us if we followed
the "accepted" protocol.
Over the ensuing months we worked on these papers, individually and
as a group, and continued to offer support to the ever-increasing number
of participants. But it wasn't all business, we did have some fun, too.
One such event was the first of what would become our annual river trips.
It was quite curious how this trip came about.
Several years before I ever attended the San Francisco Singles Ward,
I had spent the majority of weekends one summer at the Russian River.
I was fond of staying at the Willows, one of many gay resorts there.
I became a regular there and was well-known to Cloy Jenkins, the proprietor.
Despite our acquaintance, it wasn't until another Mormon visitor pointed
it out, that I learned that Cloy was also a Mormon. During one of my
ensuing discussions with Cloy he gave me a copy of a pamphlet he had
written, called Prologue. It was
an eloquent representation of the gay Mormon experience. (This pamphlet
is now published by Affirmation).
Cloy told me how he came to own the Willows after his lover's death
several years earlier. He explained that since his lover had co-owned
the property with a local bishop, the partnership that resulted from
Cloy's inheritance was an uncomfortable one, at best. Cloy attempted
to buy the bishop's half of the property, but the bishop was reluctant
to see it become a gay haven, and refused to sell. After some legal
wrangling, an out-of-court settlement was reached and Cloy eventually
owned the property outright. But there was some bad blood as he and
the bishop parted ways.
This bishop turned out to be none other than our own beloved Stan Roberts!
In one of my first meetings with Stan I had spoken of the River and
Stan had told me his version of the story, entirely unaware that I had
ever heard any other. It was clear to me that both Stan and Cloy had
harbored bad feelings, but that both had learned a lot since that experience.
One weekend, after the support group was well underway, I spoke to Cloy
about Stan's involvement in the "gay crusade." He at first bristled,
but animosity soon gave way to curiosity, and finally a sincere desire
for a reconciliation. Cloy suggested that we bring the Saturday meeting
to the Willows some Saturday, since he would never be able to attend
otherwise. Stan, marveling at the strange turn of events, agreed without
Stan was not the only one who marveled. The irony of sharing a weekend
at a gay resort with our bishop in tow was truly amazing. This event
would prove to be quite a catalyst for those who had been observing
the phenomenon from a distance.
Two new men joined the group that weekend; both were members of Affirmation.
One of these two was George Mayorga, the current Executive Director
of Affirmation. This also marked the beginning of a gradual rapprochement
between the Church and Affirmation on the local level.
The first meeting of the support group had taken place in March 1987
with just the Bishop and four gay men. By December more than a dozen
men had taken part and regular attendance was around eight or ten.
Although the existence of the "Saturday group" hadn't been announced
publicly, the inevitable rumors began to circulate. Some ward members
murmured among themselves, questioning the Bishop's motives, while others
dismissed the rumors, believing that they couldn't possibly be true.
One of these "doubting Thomases" happened to be my roommate.
Neither of my roommates knew I was gay, despite the fact that they had
moved into my Castro district apartment and we shared the building with
two gay couples. I'll never forget one particular conversation we had
one Sunday evening after church.
Thane was cooking dinner as Mark and I lazed around the kitchen table.
We had been discussing the events of the day when I brought up the fact
that the Bishop had been meeting with several gay men in the ward. While
Thane took a more "academic" interest, asking just what the Bishop hoped
to accomplish, Mark, who had just arrived from Orange County to attend
medical school, was incredulous.
"Noooooo," he groaned, "you're joking, right?" I assured him I was not.
"Actually," I said authoritatively, "there are quite a few gay men in
"How can that be?" Mark challenged, "If they were gay they'd be excommunicated."
"Well, they're all inactive, right?"
"A lot are," I assured him, "in fact, most of my home teaching route
is gay. But many have become active in recent months." I then added
mischievously, "The Bishop says that probably ten to fifteen percent
of the Priesthood is gay."
Mark lost it. "That can't be!" he insisted, "My Dad's a Stake President;
I'm gonna ask him."
He left the room shaking his head as Thane and I continued the conversation.
A few moments later Mark returned and animadverted, "Gosh, now you make
me wonder who I'm sitting next to in Priesthood!" The irony of his own
remark was lost on him. It would be over a year before he would learn
that he had a gay roommate.
In many ways, the most significant events were taking place not within
the weekly meetings but outside them. Word of the Bishop's "experiment"
had spread quickly, not only in the ward but throughout the Church.
We decided to publicly break the ice, as it were, by inviting Carol
Lynn Pearson to speak at a ward fireside. Her book, Goodbye,
I Love You, had recently been published and was already causing
a stir. Following her remarks, Stan fielded questions from the audience,
which included several excommunicated gays and many members of Affirmation.
This was a difficult experience for the Bishop. As a representative
of the "official" Church he served as a target for the release of anger
emanating from both sides of the issue. The bitterness of some who had
suffered at the hands of the Church was evident; some seemed to want
Stan to compensate them somehow.
Reactions among straight ward members were varied. Some actually took
the Bishop to task for being too liberal; others were visibly confused
about the issue. There were those who were empathetic and supportive,
but they chose to voice such feelings privately, rather than in an open
While many straight men in the ward were probably uncomfortable about
the situation, it was the women who had the Bishop worried. Many had
come to him privately, or in twos and threes, voicing their concerns.
Not surprisingly, their fears were of a different nature; how would
they ever be able to find a husband with so many gay men around? And
how were they supposed to know which ones were straight?
The Bishop decided it was time to speak to the Relief Society. The numerous
personal appointments with the worried sisters were taking too much
of his time. He arranged to address the issue head-on in a Sunday meeting.
The Bishop explained that there would likely be more gay men attending
the ward as home teachers reached out to the "less active" and invited
them to come back. He admonished the sisters to be sensitive and tolerant
and not to view all men as potential husbands, rather as brothers and
friends (a novel concept for Mormons). Some sisters were visibly disturbed,
yet said nothing.
Later, three Hispanic sisters marched into the Bishop's office and asserted
that there were certainly "no Hispanic homosexuals" and that the Lamanites
would rescue the Church from such evils. One of them would later marry
a gay "Lamanite."
Gays Meet With Priesthood Leaders; Flamingo News
Throughout its 18-month life span, the support group provided a "safe
place" for gay men (and one lesbian) to bring their personal struggles
and express their concerns. The Bishop had made it clear that he did
not consider the weekly gatherings in his home to be "confessionals,"
and that those who opened up there were not in jeopardy of disciplinary
action. He did add the caveat, however, that he was still required to
represent the Church and would not let either the group or the ward
be abused by those with private political agendas. The only requirement
for group and/or ward participation was sincerity and a desire to be
This "constructiveness" was Stan Roberts' second goal for the group.
He was convinced that our small, seemingly insignificant group could
be the beginning of some much-needed reform in the Church. Education
was the key, according to Stan, and it would happen in two ways.
The first was already happening: a grass roots awareness was occurring
in the Singles Ward as the natural result of the regular association
of gay and straight members. This would continue, even after Stan's
release from the bishopric.
The second arm of the education campaign was to reach out to the leadership
with a constructive, non-confrontational approach. Having served for
many years in Church leadership roles, the Bishop was certain that we
could get our leaders to listen if we followed the "prescribed Priesthood
channels." To Stan this meant addressing our concerns first to the Stake
Presidency, then to regional and area Priesthood leaders. Eventually,
our message would be heard in Salt Lake City. While we weren't sure
what the results would be, we were willing to give it a try.
For months we continued to refine our presentations, both written and
oral. Because the group was first composed of active ward members (though
it was never restricted to such), the majority of those involved in
this process were temple recommend holders. We felt it unfortunate that
"card-carrying" members were given more respect than others, though
we realized that this gave us a certain clout with our Priesthood leaders.
We were prepared to "exploit" that advantage by stressing our collective
contributions to the Church locally.
By the time we met with the Stake Presidency, they were well-aware that
we represented a substantial portion of the ward leadership; among the
gay men present were a Bishop's counselor, a member of the Elders Quorum
presidency, two ward clerks, a Sunday School President and a third of
the ward's home teaching resources. We felt that in light of these "credentials"
we would be taken seriously.
The Stake Presidency was indeed supportive, though not exactly enthusiastic.
With the assurance that the Bishop was firmly in control of the situation
in the ward, they were willing to let us continue our efforts to reach
out to gays and lesbians at the local level. More encouraging, however,
was the Stake President's agreement to pass our "papers" on to the Regional
Representative at the next Stake Conference. We were amazed at the speed
with which our message made its way to the Quorum of the Twelve.
While a constant stream of rumors had preceded our formal presentation
by many months, our cause had now become an item of official quorum
business. It also showed a willingness on our part to be up-front and
to work within the Church structure.
As one would expect, the results of our efforts were not dramatic; the
Church has always been extremely slow and deliberate in everything it
does. The results were significant, nonetheless. The first was simply
that Salt Lake, fully aware that we were openly gay, active members,
was willing to allow the status quo to continue. After all, the traditional
Church approach was to send "repentant" homosexuals to therapy, while
excommunicating the "unrepentant." We had just made it clear to them
that we would not, indeed could not, repent of our sexual orientation;
nor did we have any intention of being "fixed." In light of this, their
failure to take disciplinary action was certainly a sign of progress.
As for the written presentations we had submitted, the response was
again subtle. While "hard news" out of Salt Lake is always difficult
to come by, it was eventually reported to us that the Twelve had referred
the matter to Alan Gundry of LDS Social Services for review. Gundry
had recently been appointed to a position responsible for "homosexuality
and related concerns." (Unless the latter is a euphemism for AIDS, it's
frightening to think what they may consider to be "related" to homosexuality--bestiality?
At that time we were happy to have the matter in Alan's hands. He had
come to visit our support group earlier in the year and had talked with
each of us individually. The consensus was that he was sensitive to
our concerns and would be a valuable ally in Salt Lake. Two years later,
however, we would all feel a sense of betrayal when Alan became a de
facto sponsor of the Evergreen
Foundation's "former homosexual" movement. Personally, I believe
Alan was sincere when he met with us in 1988, but that the Church, being
his employer, insisted that he pursue the "change
While the group addressed the education of the leadership and provided
an outlet for the individual, I began to feel the need to share the
news of what was happening in our ward with other gay Mormons. Having
a computer and some inexpensive publishing software at home, I decided
to print a simple little "newsletter" for gay ward members. The first
issue was nothing more than a recap of the group's discussions and activities.
My intention was to distribute them to my gay home-teachees.
The name I chose for my inauspicious little publication was a tongue-in-cheek
reference to the fact that we had come to be known simply as "the group,"
without a more distinct identity: Friends, Lovers And Mormons In a Nameless
Gay Organization; the acronym--FLAMINGO. Thus the Flamingo News
San Francisco Newsletter Gains Nation-wide Fame, Stirs Controversy
It was not easy to give up (or get up) every Saturday morning
to be at the Bishop's house. While we were all appreciative of the opportunity,
few of us made it every week. Sometimes the Bishop would have another
engagement or a holiday would pre-empt the regular support group meetings.
The need for a calendar had come up in discussion many times, but we
never seemed to get around to putting one together.
So it was that I decided to put my new computer to good use. The first
issue of FLAMINGO News was really nothing more than an attempt to put
a calendar together, accompanied by a few notes on the most recent get-togethers.
It wasn't until I actually sat down with the software and saw "newsletter
templates" that I considered the concept of producing a newsletter.
Even then, however, I perceived my audience to be limited to those few
who were concerned with the support group. I thought it might be fun
to "pretend" that I was an editor with a serious publication. It was
all very tongue-in-cheek.
I was proud of my first 6-page issue--mostly because I had been able
to master my new software. The reaction of the group members to the
acronym and my meager editorials was also rewarding. Since it had been
so much fun for all of us, I decided to share a copy of it with a gay
home-teachee of mine, who happened to live in my building. He seemed
amused and I was gratified--end of story (or so I thought).
A few weeks later, however, I was surprised to get a note and a check
from someone in Colorado whom I had never met. He wanted a subscription
to the FLAMINGO News! It seems he had come to visit my Mormon neighbor
and had seen the first issue there. Because I had asked for a 25-cent
"donation," he had assumed that I sold "subscriptions." While I was
flattered and amused by his interest, I realized for the first time
that there might really be a legitimate audience outside of San Francisco
who had no idea what Stan Roberts had done for us.
While I pondered what to do with this "subscriber," I received another
check and subscription request. This one was from the ex-wife of a gay
man who had visited the support on occasion. This was becoming serious
business. People really wanted to know what was going on in the San
Francisco Singles Ward and I had become the unwitting spokesman for
our "nameless" group.
As it came time for a second issue I felt a heavy responsibility. After
all, people I didn't even know were paying me to tell them something
important! Unfortunately, I had very little to tell them. I didn't even
have enough to fill four pages and they were, I assumed, expecting six.
I had not been prepared to write any more editorials to fill space.
This venture had not been planned as a commercial enterprise. All I
could manage to throw together was an article about an AIDS awareness
class we put on in Sunday School and another about a stake dinner-dance
for couples which I attended with a ward clerk from a San Jose singles
ward. I felt tremendously guilty for letting down my "subscribers."
I immediately set about recruiting some help for the next issue. Meanwhile,
another subscription came in from L.A. In addition to an editorial about
the Gay Pride Parade, the third issue contained an obituary for one
of my hometeachees who had died of AIDS, as well as two contributions
from Jim Lemmon, who was just
organizing the LDS AIDS Project under the direction of Bishop Stan Roberts.
This was news.
I began to include not only my own predominantly gay home-teaching route
on my mailing list, but "selected" others from the ward list. My position
in the Elders' Quorum Presidency and my knowledge of San Francisco demographics
helped me to select potentially interested recipients. As I expected,
some began to respond.
By August, newsworthy events were no longer difficult to come by. We
were in the midst of planning our "second annual" Russian River trip
with the Bishop, as well as a dinner, "de-briefing," and "quilting bee"
for over 30 ward members who had participated in caring for Tom
Morgan in the last weeks of his struggle against AIDS. A ward creating
a panel for the Names Project quilt was definitely news in Concord,
Cucamonga and Colorado! The FLAMINGO's circulation had topped fifty
by the fourth issue.
As the summer drew to a close, it was clear to both the Bishop and the
members of the support group that we needed to address the future of
the group. We all knew that the Bishop's tenure of almost five years
would likely be ending soon. Gay (male) attendance in the ward had increased
so dramatically that the idea of scurrying off to the Bishop's home
every Saturday just to "chat" began to seem redundant. Stan pointed
out that we seemed to be doing a good job of "supporting each other"
and suggested that we could probably end the weekend sessions. We agreed.
By calling me to be a Home Evening group leader, the Bishop proposed
that we continue to meet as an FHE group, so that gay newcomers would
have a place to feel welcome. He also pledged to provide the same one-on-one
counseling he had always offered to any gay ward member. We were all
comfortable with this transition. Since the ward already had North,
South, East and West FHE groups, we decided to call ourselves the "Far-Side"
group. Most people, however, continued to call us the "Flamingo group."
Legacy Continues Despite Change in S.F. Bishopric
In January of 1989, 4 months after the gay support group evolved into
the Far Side home evening group, Stan Roberts was released from his
position as Bishop of the San Francisco Singles Ward.
Though rumors still circulate that the Bishop's release was disciplinary
in nature, it was actually Stan's own decision. He and his wife had
a "five-year plan" for their lives which included serving a mission.
Though the mission hasn't happened (yet) because of some real estate
problems, Stan's release was not for insubordination. If anything,
shoes were indeed hard to fill.
After some talk of disbanding the ward, Lee Wade, who with his wife
Betty Jo had been serving in the ward as stake missionaries, was called
as the new bishop. It was a logical, if not inspired choice. The Wades
had become quite familiar with the concerns of the ward, as well as
having already earned the respect of many of the members. Still there
was some reservation among us that Bishop Wade would either be unwilling
or unable to defend the gay membership from "ultra-conservative" elements,
both in and outside of the ward.
Lee, however, let us know right away that he would support us, though
he acknowledged that he had no intention of being the "crusader" that
Stan had been. That was fine with most of us. We had already achieved
a comfortable place in the ward and all we really needed was someone
who would not upset the status quo.
The gay home evening group and the FLAMINGO News continued through the
summer of '89 and the Bishop and Betty Jo settled comfortably into their
new roles. By September, however, I could no longer find the time or
money to continue the newsletter. It had grown to 24 pages and a circulation
of almost two hundred. I ate, slept and lived FLAMINGO and was careening
toward bankruptcy, since less than 100 readers actually paid for their
I had been more interested in "the cause" than the business of publishing.
While readers were long on compliments, they were short on funding.
I had no choice but to retire the publication. I knew however, that
it had been an inspired venture and had made gay history among Mormons.
After all, it had found its way to microfilm in that big granite mountain
F.L.A.M.I.N.G.O.: Friends, Lovers and Mormons in a Nameless Gay
Organization. Edited and published by Marty Beaudet. Vol. 1 Issue
1 (May 1988) to Vol. 1 Issue 8 (December 1988), and Vol. 2 Issue 1 (January
1989) to Vol. 2 Issue 6 (Fall 1989). San Francisco.
Roberts, Stan. "Pastoring the Far Side: Making a Place for Believing
Homosexuals." A conversation with Stan Roberts, former bishop of the
San Francisco Single Adult Ward. Sunstone, February 1990, pp.
13-19; reprinted in June 1999, pp. 88-97.
Southwick, Karen. "Single in San Francisco: A Memoir." Sunstone, March-April 1998, pp. 51-56.