Robert I. McQueen:
Robert I. McQueen
Missionary, Editor, and Activist
By Jay Bell
© Jay Bell 2003
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
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.
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
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 form Los Angeles to San Francisco,
CA, 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 
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 collogue 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.
"Mormon Mafia:" David Goodstein and the LDS Team Who Helped Build
"Names from the LDS AIDS Quilt: Robert McQueen,"
Affinity, May 2001, pp. 5-6.
"Why Is That So very Difficult?" Affinity, March 2001, pp. 1-2.
" Timeline," Long Road to Freedom: The Advocate History of the Gay and Lesbian Movement, Mark Thompson ed. (New York, NY: St. Martin's Press 1994), 117.
The Advocate, 22 December 1983.
"The Advocate Prints Payne Papers," The Salt Lake Open Door, 2/2 (February 1978): 12.
"Comments and Correspondence," Long Road to Freedom: The Advocate History of the Gay and Lesbian Movement, Mark Thompson ed. (New York, NY: St. Martin's Press 1994), 170.
"Gay Mormons Organize," The Advocate, 2 November 1977, 30.
"The Heterosexual Solution: A Dilemma for Gay Mormons." Robert I. McQueen, ed. The Advocate, 235 (22 February 1978): 10-15.
"The Heterosexual Solution: A Dilemma for Gay Mormons." Robert I. McQueen
ed. of article, Long Road to Freedom: The Advocate History of the Gay
and Lesbian Movement, Mark Thompson ed. (New York, NY: St. Martin's Press
"Isn't There a Mormon Tabernacle Queer?" The Advocate, 15 May 1980.
Mark Thompson, "Introduction," Long Road to Freedom: The Advocate History of the Gay and Lesbian Movement, Mark Thompson ed. (New York, NY: St. Martin's Press 1994), xxii-xxiii.
"Mormon Campus Cops Get Statewide Bust Power," The Advocate, 27 December 1979.
Robert I. McQueen, "Mormon President Raps Homosexuals," The Advocate 150 (6 November 1976): 15.
"Mormons Excommunicate Editor of Advocate," The Advocate, 9 August 1979.
Robert I. McQueen, "BYU Inquisition," The Advocate, 13 August 1975, 14-15.
"The Payne Papers," The Open Door, 1/9 (September 1977): 14,15-17.
"The Payne Papers," The Rocky Mountain Open Door, 1/10 (October 1977): 6-9; November 1977, 5-8, 10-11.
"The Payne Papers," The Salt Lake Open Door, 1/12 (December 1977): 8-14.
"Payne Papers," The Salt Lake Open Door, 2/3 (March 1978): 19.
"Robert McQueen Appointed as New Advocate Editor," The Advocate, 3 December 1975.
"Robert McQueen Dies," The Advocate, 7 November 1989.
Robert I. McQueen, "Dogma According to Kimball," The Advocate, 13 August 1975, 14-16.
"Robert I. McQueen, Former Advocate Editor, Dead at 47," Bay Area Reporter (B.A.R.), 19 October 1989.
Robert I. McQueen, "Mormons Show Fear," The Advocate 166 (18 June 1975).
Robert I. McQueen, "Opinions: A Matter of Choice," The Advocate 235 (22 February 1978): 22.
Robert I. McQueen, "Outside the Temple Gates - The Gay Mormon," The Advocate 13 August 1975, 14.
Robert I. McQueen, "What Hath Gay Wrought? The Progress and the Promise," The Advocate 28 June 1980; Quoted and reported in "LDS Homosexuals Featured in National Gay Magazine," Sunstone Review, 2/11 (November 1982): 8.
"Short Takes," The Advocate, 26 June 1980.