Paul Mortensen: Consecrated Living
Russian River Trip, 1979
"Gay Mormons Organize," The Advocate, 2 November 1977, pp. 30-31. When Paul Mortensen read this story, he decided to organize the LA Chapter of Affirmation. Image scanned by Jay Bell.
With MCC Founder Troy D. Perry at the first Affirmation Pride March. Los Angeles, June 1979.
With two early leaders of the LA Chapter, Shari Glenn and Gary Booher, circa 1983
With his partner (left) and his mother (center) on the evening he recieved the Paul Mortensen Award. Salt Lake City, September 26, 1987.
At Temple Square, 27 September 1987
Paul Mortensen got the idea of creating the Affirmation AIDS Quilt after displaying in Washington DC a panel created by Ricky Gilbert in memory of Paul's friend Ed Towne
00024). AIDS Quilt display on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., Second National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights, October 11, 1987.
With national leaders gathered at Hill Cumorah, NY, circa 1988. Paul is the third from the left.
The 10th year anniversary of the Los Angeles Chapter, 17 January 1988. Mike Miner, Ron Kershaw, Russ Lane, Paul Mortensen, & Ina Mae Murri.
At a leadership meeting held in Seattle, May 26 - June 1, 1989. Paul is the third from the left.
In costume, with partner Robert Jacob
With partner Robert Jacob
With Imelda, Seattle Conference, August 1995
by Hugo Salinas
See also: The Pioneers Gallery of the Religious
Lowell Paul Mortensen was born in 1941 as a fourth generation Mormon. He was raised in Riverton, Utah. In 1961 he went on a mission to the Eastern Atlantic States, an experience that he would later describe as rewarding and successful. After his mission he attended the University of Utah, where he majored in electrical engineering.
About the time of graduation, Paul was married in the Salt Lake Temple, in a sincere attempt to follow the leaders' counsel to "overcome" his homosexuality. Shortly after, the couple moved to Los Angeles, where Paul remained active and involved in the LDS Church and continued to make genuine efforts to "become straight." On occasions he met with Spencer W. Kimball, who was then assigned to counsel gay Mormons. Paul's interactions with Elder Kimball convinced him that Elder Kimball was an inspired and loving leader, but that he was also very uninformed regarding the nature of homosexuality. According to Paul, Elder Kimball seemed to believe that homosexuality was purely a matter of behaviors, rather than a matter of identity, feelings, and emotions. In 1968, Paul divorced his wife and was excommunicated from the Church. Paul decided to accept himself as a gay person and embraced the gay community he discovered in Los Angeles.
The two greatest events in Paul's life took place in 1978. After reading a November 1977 article about Affirmation in The Advocate, Paul decided to contact Stephan Zakharias who, going by the name of Matthew Price, had founded the original Affirmation group in Salt Lake City. On January 28, 1978, six gay Mormons met in Paul's apartment in West Hollywood and organized the Los Angeles chapter of Affirmation. The chapter's membership skyrocketed almost overnight. Also in 1978, Paul met his life partner. Paul had planned and promoted the first Affirmation meeting partly in hopes of meeting a nice Mormon man with whom to settle down; only days before the first meeting, he met Robert Jacob, who was not LDS. It was love at first sight. That very night, they decided they would be together for the rest of their lives and for all eternity.
It is not easy to summarize Paul's contributions to Affirmation. He was
the first director of the LA Chapter and the first national secretary--the
equivalent to today's executive director. With Paul at the helm, the LA
Chapter helped establish chapters in San Francisco, Washington DC, and other
cities. Under Paul's vigorous leadership, Affirmation proclaimed itself
to the world, established a national phone line, launched a national newsletter,
and produced some of Affirmation's first publications, which included classics
such as "Prologue," "The Affirmation Philosophy," and "All About Excommunication for the Gay and Lesbian Mormon."
As Affirmation grew and expanded, Paul was always at the front line, working energetically in the organization, assessing needs and resources, and planning for the future. Over the years, Paul spent hundreds of hours writing letters and articles that continue to educate and inspire. He has always been opinionated and has never minced words, but he has always expressed his ideas with respect for others' points of view. As the organization grew older, Paul also began to talk and to write about Affirmation's history--a history he has witnessed first hand. "After all, I'm the oldest fossil in Affirmation," he quipped in 2000, "and if I don't make an effort to remember [our history], it may be lost forever."1
For 28 years, Paul and Robert's home has been a safe haven for gay and lesbian Mormons who have been rejected, excommunicated, and cast out. Their home has also been the venue for hundreds of Affirmation parties, functions, and meetings. The Affirmation Academy Award parties at Paul and Robert's are legendary. To this day, their home is open to Affirmation events and meetings.
One of the milestones in Paul's life occurred at the 1987 national conference, when Affirmation celebrated its tenth anniversary. During the conference banquet, it was announced that Affirmation leaders had established an award to be granted annually to one individual who had given outstanding service and leadership to the organization. Appropriately, the distinction was named the Paul Mortensen Award, and Paul was the first recipient.
Well into his sixties, Paul remains as active in Affirmation as ever. Along with his partner Robert, he attends every national conference. After a quarter of a century, Paul is still in charge of the Affirmation mailbox, a crucial task that helps manage Affirmation's finances and communications. He also continues to chair the Election Committee, with the important mission of counting the votes by which a new executive director is elected. And he remains the chair of the Paul Mortensen Award Committee.
For years Paul personally answered every call made to the national phone line--calls made sometimes at three or four in the morning. Many of the calls were cries for help from gay and lesbian Mormons who had just been excommunicated from the Church or kicked out of their homes. We will never how many hundreds of hours Paul spent on the phone counseling with people who felt rejected, unworthy, even suicidal. We will never know how many lives he helped save. Paul fulfilled this and other Affirmation "callings" enthusiastically, with a personal conviction about the importance of Affirmation's mission. He wrote,
My feelings about what Affirmation should be are firmly enrooted in my Mormon upbringing and my testimony of the gospel of Jesus Christ. I really believe that we are our brothers' keeper and should be actively involved in helping them.2
In a world where too many Mormons are still embarrassed for being gay or apathetic toward the Church, or too busy pursuing personal goals, Paul Mortensen stands out as an example of unselfish service, resilient courage, and unwavering dedication. Instead of living in fear or denial, Paul decided that his homosexuality was a gift from God; he took what Church leaders were trying to hide under a bushel, and placed it on a candlestick; he testifies by word and actions that our gay Mormon identity is something that deserves not only to be embraced and celebrated, but also something that should inspire us to serve. As he once wrote:
I firmly believe that being gay is a gift from God… I firmly believe that God has blessed me with being gay, and with blessings go responsibilities. I am expected to magnify my blessings and special gifts. I am reminded of the words of Christ, "… Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works and glorify your Father which is in heaven."3
1. Mortensen, Paul. "A Little Affirmation History." Affinity, October 2000, p. 5.
2. Mortensen, Paul. [Welcome to the Fourth Annual Affirmation Convention.] Unpublished manuscript, 1982.
3. Mortensen, Paul. "What's in a Name? Affirmation: Gay and Lesbian Mormons."