Paper Abstract- “The Wages of Sin is Death”: AIDS in Utah and the LDS Church Response

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I haven’t posted in forever and I feel bad about that. It’s not that I’m not writing, I’m actually writing a lot for graduate school I’m just not posting my research here.

However, I submitted an abstract to the University of Utah History Conference about my research regarding AIDS in Utah in the 1980s. I’m posting the abstract here for anyone interested. This is a distilled version of the 30 page paper I wrote last spring.

“The Wages of Sin is Death”: AIDS in Utah and the LDS Church Response

In 1986 the Mormon Church shocked the gay and lesbian community in Salt Lake when a Mormon bishop in Ogden excommunicated a young Mormon man dying of AIDS. A national public relations fiasco for the Church followed and resulted in the Church issuing its first statement about AIDS, which only made matters worse. Spokesman Jerry Cahill stated that the Church had no official policy on homosexuality or AIDS but asked infected members to stay away from church meetings for fear of spreading the disease.

Church leaders grappled with the existence of homosexuality within Mormonism and by extension, a disease that devastated the gay community as well as women, children, and racial minorities. Church leadership refused to acknowledge or respond to the public health crisis until national media shamed them into making a statement in 1986 even though AIDS had spread in Utah since the early years of the decade. In addition the majority of members in the Utah legislature identified as faithful Church members and they too made no effort to combat the growing epidemic with state funds. The Catholic Church responded first to the AIDS epidemic in Utah. Nuns opened a wing in the Catholic hospital to men dying from AIDS and provided food and services. Other men and women from the Utah gay community organized the first AIDS organizations and public health outreach to combat this terrifying new disease.


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1 Comment
  • James Weller
    February 26, 2014

    My word. I am saddened. I, too, made no effort to help, though as a high school student I could have volunteered. I feared, I feared the disease, and I feared myself, as I am gay. I joined the LDS Church at age 19, in 1984, and was on a foreign mission by early 1986. My bishop in SF organized our ward to assist AIDS victims. Sadly, there was only on Bishop Stanley Roberts, but many more cold-hearted hypocrites, as I was, save I had a good leader who led in the truest sense.

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