24 “I’m on the list – are you?” Homosexual Purges on College Campuses

River Cook


The Lavender Scare

In 1948, Alfred Kinsey’s book, Sexual Behavior in the Human Male, represented a shift in the politics surrounding homosexual issues in the 20th century. Kinsey argued that a significant amount of men engaged in homosexual activity, forcing the issue of homosexuality from an abstract concept to something that anyone could be affected by, because, as Kinsey put it, “more than one male in three of the persons that one may meet as he passes along a city street” had at least one homosexual experience.[1] Because of this, between 1940 and 1960, there was a significant rise in fears that homosexuals were secretly becoming involved in society.

The fears about homosexuals infiltrating institutions exploded around this time, with the 1950 “Lavender Scare”, where the State Department conducted mass firings of homosexual people from the United States government, and Executive Order 10450, which barred homosexuals from working in the federal government, setting the standards for other professional groups to do the same. Colleges and universities in the United States were a primary arena where these homosexual purges were enacted against students, staff, and faculty. While there is very little literature on this subject for a variety of reasons, including the fact that many universities have successfully buried the proof of these purges, many researchers have been able to uncover the far-reaching legacy of anti-gay purges in colleges and universities.

The fear of a homosexual invasion led to crackdowns at many universities. For instance, in 1944, President Homer P. Rainey at the University of Texas was dismissed due to his “lack of toughness in ousting homosexuals”.[2] Four years later at the University of Wisconsin, crackdown against homosexual students began. Campus police would patrol the University, looking for offenders. When students were accused of being a homosexual without “proof”, they were sent to the Student Health Services for a psychiatric evaluation. When there was proof, students were expelled. Wisconsin seems to have set the standard for how to deal with homosexual activity on campus, because many other universities followed a similar method. The Universities of Missouri, Harvard, and Yale also searched for homosexuals on campus and held fact-finding sessions for the students accused. Brigham Young University also engaged in these purging activities.

Brigham Young University

In 1962, Brigham Young University adopted an official ban on homosexual students, stating that, “no one will be admitted as a student…whom we have convincing evidence is a homosexual”.[3] This policy continued until 1973 when President Dallin H. Oaks determined that the university would admit students who repented their homosexuality. President Oaks also implemented a system of surveillance to root out homosexuals on campus.

In 1977, Brigham Young student Cloy Jenkins and instructor Lee Williams coauthored a letter refuting the homophobic lectures of professor Reed Payne. This caused a stir on campus, and apostle of the Church of Latter-day Saints, Boyd Packer, published “To the One”, stating that “sexual perversion” is “not desirable; it is unnatural; it is abnormal; it is an affliction. When practiced, it is immoral”.[4]

The article, “Homosexuality at BYU”, which is the focus of this piece, was published in the Seventh East Press on March 27, 1982. It takes place after these events and details the homosexual purging that was happening on campus and in Utah writ large. Gay purging at this school can be traced to specific events due to the documentation of students such as Dean Huffaker. As an undergraduate at BYU, they wrote an essay detailing the trails that homosexual students received during this time period, including shock treatment, policing, and homophobic professors.

The trend that this article isolates has continued; in the 1990s the BYU honor code was updated to forbid homosexual actions. Innumerable students have been expelled due to suspected homosexuality. In 2007, the honor code was clarified to prohibit all forms of homosexual activity, but not feelings. The honor code at Brigham Young has created more insidious forms of anti-gay policing, for instance, requiring specific forms of “dress and grooming”. In the frequently asked sections, it clarifies, “a girl shaving her head, a guy dying his hair bright blue…is not appropriate”.[5] Policies such as this are targeted against gender diverse individuals. It is clear that, while the university has steered away from overtly anti-gay campaigns, the sentiment still exists and is perpetuated at the university.

Homosexuality at BYU[6]

By Dean Huffaker

A noted psychologist named Alfred Kinsey made a survey of sexual behavior in America and published the results in 1948.[7] According to Kinsey, one third of all adult males engage in some kind of homosexual behavior, although their primary orientation remains heterosexual and they don’t think of themselves as being “gay”.

John Baswell, in his book, Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality, differentiates between homosexuality and being gay.[8] Baswell says that gays have an “erotic preference for their own gender” and says that the category is “principly self-assigned.” A homosexual is one who commits homosexual acts.

According to these definitions, BYU has, and has had, both homosexuals and gays. There are professors and students who believe, or fear, that they are gay. Some have never engaged in a homosexual act, others prefer sex with women, but because of emotional orientation consider themselves gay. There are still others who have committed homosexual acts but do not consider themselves gay.

An assistant professor of psychology on campus laid down the ground rules for trying to understand and describe gays and homosexuals: “There are incredible differences between them, just as there are vast differences between heterosexuals” and straights. “We have a problem of lumping individuals into one group.”

From interviewing gays and homosexuals on and near campus – including a former BYU instructor, a former BYU professor, and former and current BYU students – this point becomes apparent.

“Companionship is mainly what I’m after,” says Alan, who last semester was a ward clerk in a BYU ward. “I need someplace to go where I can feel accepted for what I am.” Alan now lives in Salt Lake City with “fifteen close, gay friends,” only two of whom are not returned missionaries. Many of them have attended BYU.

Alan explains that “It was too dangerous to organize any kind of group at BYU. Usually the only time a bunch of us got together in Provo was Monday nights. We had our own FHE program. We called it ‘Faggot Home Evening.’ The center of the BYU gay scene is not in Provo at all. With security actively hunting out gays, it is very dumb and risky to attempt to make contacts in Provo.”

R. Michael Whitaker, director of University Standards, outlined the university’s policy toward homosexuals, “A student involved in homosexual acts is subject to termination at BYU.”

He explained further, “When a homosexual violates the honor code in this manner, it is appropriate as part of the repentance process that he go to the institution that was wronged and make amends, which often involves having to leave the institution.

This way BYU has enforced its policy toward homosexuals has, in the past, drawn fire from many directions. Although its policies have stayed basically the same, there have been slight modifications.

Shock Treatment

In the early 1970’s students who confessed homosexual tendencies were referred to the BYU Counseling Center. Steve, then a BYU professor, went through this counseling program and received what he called “the shock treatment,” similar to the therapy sometimes used by psycologists to help patients stop smoking.[9]

Jon, a former BYU student who is gay, described this treatment as experiencing an electrical shock while viewing a pornographic picture of a male. The patient would then be shown a pornographic picture of a female without an electric shock.

When asked about this treatment, a former BYU counselor said that “aversion therapy – not shock treatment” – had been used in the past. Mild electric stimulus was used in conjunction with slides of males and females in various stages of dress.

But, according to this counselor. “Even the raciest pictures wouldn’t be considered pornography.”

Describing his opinion of the effectiveness of aversive therapy, Jon quipped, “Thanks to the shock treatment, now every time I see a man, I get a jolt.”


Over the years there have been concerted efforts between BYU Security and undercover student volunteers to identify homosexuals and help them find their way out of BYU. Dallin Oaks, then BYU president, said, “We are not going to stand for solicitation of sexual acts—homosexual or heterosexual—on this campus and among its students. We ask Security to be especially watchful for that kind of crime”.[10]

Gays have many stories about methods used in the past by BYU Security to be “especially watchful” of their actions.

Dave, a former BYU student. said he knew two gay students in 1973 who, threatened with expulsion from the university, were persuaded to work for security as spies. “Security was obnoxious and knew how to push people into things they didn’t want to do,” said Dave. Apparently a few of the spies became fed up with such tactics and went to TV stations in Salt Lake City to tell their story publicly. “After that blew over things were quiet for a while.” said Dave.

According to Jon, during the “Purge of ‘75” security officers took male drama and ballet students out of their classes to interrogate them and to get the names of any homosexuals they knew.[11]

Because, as Jon said, one of the “codes of behavior” used by gays to identity each other in bathrooms was to tap their foot three times in the direction of the person sitting in the next stall, scores of students working undercover for Security acted as foot-tapping decoys arresting those who responded to their psuedo-advances.

Dave said that Security people also used the gay’s method of passing notes to the person in the nest stall to identify homosexuals. Dave also made mention of the purge. “It was January of 1975. It happened within a matter of days and nobody expected it.” Dave described how one day during the purge there were Security officers with walky-talkies on every level of HFAC. “It was all a joke in the Drama department. We had T-shirts made at the Bookstore which read ‘I’m on the list—are you” Being that blatant helped people to look at the problem realistically,” said Dave.

An Anonymous Letter

In Spring of 1977 Dr. Reed Payne touched on the subject of homosexuality in a lecture to his beginning Psychology class, which set off a chain of events bringing the Church’s and university’s dealings with homosexuals into public view.[12] Apparently his comments weren’t taken well by those present who were gay, which led Lee Williams to publish a 52 page letter explaining what it was like to be gay. Williams, one of the principle authors, wrote the letter anonymously because at the time he was an instructor at BYU.

In the letter Williams et al asserted that homosexuality was a state of being and not just a chosen pattern of behavior; that it cannot be cured, and those claiming to have been cured might have experienced modification of their sexual behavior but not their preference.

Wrote Williams, “No one knows what causes homosexuality. However, we do know one thing that does not cause homosexuality and that is free choice. Until the cause or causes are known it is grossly inappropriate to moralize about it.”

Williams went on to give a warning, “As the homosexual becomes less and less willing to submit to this damaging influence [humiliation and discrimination from the Church,] and the rest of the world comes to realize the plight of the Mormon homosexual, the Church stands to face a very serious and embarrassing blow to its integrity.”

A former Social Service Counselor at BYU said that William’s response to Payne, called the “Payne letter,” caused a “real stir” at BYU and in the Church. “Officials in both places were very touchy over it,” he said.

What further fanned the foes of indignation was an article containing excerpts of the letter which appeared Feb. 2, 1978 in “Advocate,” a homosexual publication. Along with the article appeared a derrogatory cartoon depicting President Kimball’s disgust with homosexuals.[13]

One month later on March 5, Elder Boyd K. Packer addressed a BYU 12-stake Fireside in which he directed his talk toward homosexuals.[14]

Elder Packer’s comments, published by the Church under the title “To the One,” reflected and emphasized the Church’s policy on homosexuals. He used the word “homosexual” only once in his address. “Please notice that I use it as an adjective, not as a noun: I reject it as a noun. I repeat, I accept that word as an adjective to describe a temporary condition. I reject it as a noun naming a permanent one.”

Later that month Rev. Rob Waldrop, pastor of the gay Metropolitan Community Church in Salt Lake City requested equal time on KBYU to respond to Elder Packer’s ‘very offensive and highly inaccurate’ remarks.[15] KBYU General Manager, Bruce Christiansen denied Waldrop’s request. The March 30, 1978 edition of the Daily Universe quoted Christiansen as saying, “We recognize our responsibility to cover all aspects of the gay rights issue and we believe we have done that with fairness.”

Legislative Action

Another significant event during this time concerned action taken by the Utah Legislature during its 1977-78 interim the Transportation and Public Safety Study Committee headed by Public Safety Commissioner Larry Lunnen made a study to re-define the authority of various law enforcement agencies throughout the state, including BYU Security.

As a result of the study the Legislature passed House Bill 80 giving BYU Security officers 24 hour jurisdiction throughout the state.

In addition to that, the bill read ambiguously, “Members of the police and security department of any college or university shall also have the power to enforce all rules and regulations promulgated by the governing board of such an institution.’

Gays have in the past complained of harassment from BYU Security in Salt Lake City and even in areas as far away as St. George. Mike, a gay returned missionary said, “I’ve seen BYU Security officers in Salt Lake City at the cruise areas driving past lines of cars leaning out the window taking pictures of not only the license and cars, but of the passengers inside of them also.”

Chief Kelshaw denied that tracking down homosexuals off campus had anything to do with BYU gaining statewide jurisdiction. “You don’t even need police power to take pictures or write down license plate numbers,” said Kelshaw. He did say that having statewide jurisdiction can help in the prosecution of off-campus cases.

More Controversy

Just three months before the passing of the bill an arrest was made of a homosexual which mused an even greater stir than the Payne letter. David Chipman, 22, was arrested February 1979 and charged with forcible sexual abuse. The charges were filed by David Newmann, a police science student working under cover for BYU Security.

Newmann, posing as a homosexual, had previously written a letter which appeared in a gay publication, expressing a desire to organize a gay underground group at BYU. Chipman, a non-student. responded to Newmann ‘s letter and they arranged to meet at BYU. After meeting, they consented to go to Squaw Peak for sexual activity.

After sexual activity had been initiated, Chipman was taken to the BYU Security office where he was placed under arrest. Upon learning of the account, President Oaks put a halt to such tactics. However, Chipman was prosecuted and convicted.

Two months later a three-part series on homosexuality was published in the Daily Universe. This unprecedented attempt by the Universe to increase understanding of the problem of homosexuality on campus took many by surprise.

A faculty advisor explained that the series was read by President Oaks prior to its publication, but that Church officials in Salt Lake City still “weren’t at all pleased” that the subject had been brought up in the first place although the Church’s position on homosexuality was reflected strongly throughout the series.

In the meantime, the Payne letter was not well received by many members of the psychology department. One professor of Psychology commented, “It’s a fabrication. Those guys aren’t interested in facts.”

This same professor, then a member of BYU’s Institute for Studies in Values and Human Behavior, headed by Victor L Brown Jr., helped prepare a rebuttal to the Payne letter in the form of a preliminary statement on a study the Institute was doing on homosexuality.

The rebuttal, published in the Fall of 1978, was entitled “A Reply to Unfounded Assertions Regarding Homosexuality” and was prepared partly “from the files of LDS Social Services.”[16]

This BYU publication made statements such as “Since homosexuality is not unique in its patterns of causation or cure, it does not deserve privileged status as special disorder different from other behavior problems or sexual sins.” “Homosexuality is one of a class of impulse disorders and is not the result of a unique set of psychological disorders” “Highly religious groups, like the Latter-day Saints, have been found to have significantly lower [homosexuality] incidence rates.”

This rebuttal also gave a brief conclusion of the unfinished study being done for LDS Social Services “There is no scientific evidence that homosexual behavior is the inevitable product of biological or environmental influents. However, there is evidence that agency is involved. Homosexuality can be changed.”

According to one BYU professor, the rebuttal was so poorly done that it was an embarrassment to all involved,” and most of the copies were given back to the authors or their request.

The claims made by the Values Institute reflect the present position of the Church on homosexuality. In Homosexuality, a Church handbook distributed to state presidents and bishops, the Church policies and procedures are spelled out, “As we have previously stated, homosexuality is a sin in the same degree as adultry and fornication.”

The handbook emphasizes that “homosexuality is a learned behavior, and as such can be changed.” The handbook states that “Modern day prophets have clearly promised that homosexuality can be changed. You should convey this positive attitude because it encourages change… Be careful not to label people ‘homosexual.’ It is better to refer to their ‘homosexual behavior’ than to all them a homosexual.”‘

Steve, a former BYU professor who is gay, said, “The Church’s simplistic attitudes toward homosexuality are the cause of its lack of understanding in dealing with it. When the Church says that there is no such thing as a homosexual, and you know that you are one, how do you resolve that?'”

LDS gays who finally adopt the attitude that they can’t change are classified in the Church handbook under “Rebellious Homosexuality… This category represents primarily an attitude and lifestyle. These individuals may be either early memory or situational types who, for various reasons, have chosen to fully accept a homosexual lifestyle. They have little if any, motivation to change their behaviour and are openly active, even promiscuous in their homosexual behaviour. They promote the concerns of the homosexual community and may belong to various homosexual organizations They commonly manipulate others to meet their own sexual needs. Generally they are not active in the Church. They tend to rationalize and interpret doctrines for their own purpose, and try to refute the position of the Church on homosexuality.”

Because the modern day prophets have clearly promoted that homosexuality can be conquered, those “rebellious” homosexuals who believe otherwise are subject to excommunication from the Church.

In Welfare Services Packet One, instructions to bishops and state presidents concerning homosexuals include, “An attitude of stiffneckedness and rebellion is almost always a clear indication of the need to be sternly disciplined, even to excommunication, so that others are not contaminated by unclean habits.”

Another procedure of repentance was outlined by the Church handbook. “Since homosexual behavior is possible only with others, the individual should disclose his sexual partners as an essential part of repentance. The purpose is to help save others.”

River Cook is an undergraduate at Wake Forest University, where they plan to study linguistics. To get in contact with them, you can email cookec19@wfu.edu.

  1. Alfred Kinsey, Wardell Pomeroy, and Clyde Martin, Sexual Behavior in the Human Male (Philadelphia: W.B. Saunders, 1948), 659.
  2. Margaret A. Nash, Jennifer A. R. Silverman, “‘An Indelible Mark’: Gay Purges in Higher Education in the 1940s,” History of Education Quarterly 55, no. 4 (2015).
  3. Michael D. Quinn, Same-Sex Dynamics among Nineteenth-Century Americans: A Mormon Example (Illinois: University of Illinois Press, 2001).
  4. Boyd K. Packer, “To the One” (speech, Brigham Young University, March 5, 1978), https://blakeclan.org/jon/to-the-one/.
  5. Honor Code Faculty Information,” Brigham Young University Faculty Center, Accessed October 17, 2019, https://facultycenter.byu.edu/honor-code-faculty-information.
  6. Dean Huffaker, “Homosexuality at BYU,” Seventh East Press 1, no. 14 (1982) 1, 12
  7. This likely refers to Kinsey’s book Sexual Behavior in the Human Male published in 1948. This book, along with Sexual Behavior in the Human Female, published in 1953, became known as the Kinsey reports, and documented that 37% of males and 13% of females had “at least some overt homosexual experience to orgasm.” See “Diversity of sexual orientation,” the Kinsey Institute, Accessed October 22, 2019, https://kinseyinstitute.org/research/publications/historical-report-diversity-of-sexual-orientation.php.
  8. John Baswell was a historian and a professor at Yale University who focused on Christianity and homosexuality. His book Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality, published in 1980, explores the attitudes toward homosexuality in the early Christian Western world.
  9. Electroshock therapy was rarely used as a method to stop smoking. In addition, many studies have been inconclusive about its benefits, suggesting that electroshock therapy used in this manner has caused depression as a side-effect. See M.A. Hamilton Russell, “Effect of Electric Aversion on Cigarette Smoking,” The BMJ 1, no. 5688 (1970), and Hajek P Stead, “Aversive smoking for smoking cessation,” Cochrane Library 3, no. 546 (2004).
  10. Dallin Oaks was the president of Brigham Young University from 1971 to 1980. He then was appointed as a justice of the Utah Supreme Court and served for 4 years before being appointed by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. In 2018 he was appointed as First Counselor in the First Presidency. See “President Dallin H. Oaks,” The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, Accessed October 17, 2019, https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/prophets-and-apostles/meet-todays-prophets-and-apostles/bio/dallin-h-oaks?lang=eng.
  11. During 1975, security officers were instructed to “spy” on the students and patrol known gay meeting places in order to find and expose homosexuals on campus. Officers also used entrapment campaigns through utilizing gay signals, such as tapping feet in a bathroom stall, and interrogating fine arts and drama students. See Garry J. Moes, “Ex-BYU Security Officer Tells of Intrigue, Spying”, The Salt Lake Tribune (1975).
  12. Dr. Reed Payne was a psychology professor at Brigham Young University who, in 1977, preached homophobic views in class. In response, Jenkins and Williams published “The Payne Papers”.
  13. This likely refers to Spencer Woolley Kimball, president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints from 1973 to 1985.
  14. Boyd K. Packer was a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles at the time of this newspaper. In 1994, he became the Acting President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and became the official president in 2008.
  15. KBYU is a religious television station in Salt Lake City, Utah.
  16. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, informally called LDS, is the primary Mormon church in the United States.

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