Connell Hill O'Donovan was born in Syracuse, Utah in 1961, son of Claude Hill O'Donovan (of Paso Robles, Calif.) and Patsy Kaye Beazer (of Syracuse, Utah). Raised in Fairbanks, Alaska, where his father was a "bush pilot", Connell learned early to appreciate the intense beauty of the natural world. Although he had been baptized into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (LDS or Mormons) at the age of 8, his family was not active in the religion during his youth.
His parents divorced when he was 15 and he moved back to Syracuse, Utah, with his mother and little sister. As "social Mormons", he and his family participated in church activities but with little belief in Mormon dogma. When Connell was 17, however, he got a job at the Latter-Day Saint owned Genealogy Library in Salt Lake City and fell in love with a co-worker who was about to leave for his mission to Finland. Couching their attraction for each other firmly within the frame of Christian brotherhood, Connell became increasingly attached to the LDS faith and had a very intense conversion experience just before he turned 18. With great conviction, Connell threw himself into Mormonism. He went to Porto Alegre, Brazil, for two years as a missionary, converting some 150 people to the LDS church.
After his return to Utah, he again worked for the Genealogy Library but started affiliating with several Mormon dissidents (Brent Metcalfe, Lynn Jacobs, and Dr. D. Michael Quinn, among others). Having come out to his bishop, Connell was subjected to several exorcisms, weekly "worthiness" interviews for many years, and a round of severely debilitating hypnotherapy with a Mormon psychologist named Dr. Randy Hyde. His bishop also recommended going into the military to learn how "to be more masculine". Connell subsequently joined the Army and went to the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, California, where he learned to speak Arabic for military intelligence. He excelled in the military and received numerous medals and awards as an outstanding soldier, and quickly earned the rank of sergeant. Most of his fellow soldiers were closeted gays however and it became increasingly difficult for him to maintain his closeted identity. During one severe bout of depression and guilt over his sexuality, he called up his girlfriend and a wedding in the Salt Lake Mormon Temple was quickly arranged. However the marriage only lasted one unhappy year. Just before the marriage ended, Connell came out to the Army, received an honorable discharge, and he and his wife left California and moved to Salt Lake City, where they mistakenly thought all "temptation" to be homosexual would be removed due to no homosexuals living in Utah. Connell quickly discovered that conversely there was a large, vibrant and active gay community in Salt Lake. His hopes for maintaining any kind of heterosexual facade were finally dashed and he came out around July 4th, 1985. Despite knowing that his homosexuality put him at odds with his religion, he fiercely tried to reconcile them.
After divorcing his wife, he got a part-time job working as a security guard on Temple Square and another part-time job as a cashier at a local porn shop. His relationship with Mormonism wildly vacillated for several years, from moments of intense piety to bouts of anger, rebellion, and vengeance against the church. In 1987, he began attending meetings of "Affirmation - Gay & Lesbian Mormons" at the Unitarian Church in Salt Lake. Initially he agreed with their assimilationist tactics and soon joined the Board of Directors for the Wasatch Chapter of Affirmation, where he headed their Public Relations Committee and edited their monthly newsletter for over a year. He also began socializing with several prominent Mormon feminists, such as Carol Lynn Pearson and Maxine Hanks. It was through these women that he finally found a language of liberation that he so desperately needed to escape and heal from the spiritual abuse he had suffered at the hands of Mormon leaders for so many years. In 1988, he also founded the Lesbian and Gay Historical Society of Utah, and began collecting and archiving documents, photos, and other ephemera related to homosexuality and transexuality both in Utah and in the LDS Church. In 1992, through Signature Books in Salt Lake City, he published a preliminary history called "'The Abominable and Detestable Crime Against Nature': A Brief History of Homosexuality and Mormonism, 1830-1980", which is now online. <http://www.connellodonovan.com>
While several major strides were made with the LDS Church during the late 1980s, church leadership grew increasingly wary of these advances and soon withdrew all support, establishing their own version of a "cure ministry" called the Evergreen Foundation to eradicate homosexuality. Disillusioned by this, Connell became more militant and eventually left Affirmation to co-found the Utah "tribe" of Queer Nation in January, 1990. He helped organize two major protests against the LDS Church during their large annual conferences at Temple Square in Salt Lake City (which were counter-protested by a large contingency of Aryan Nations who had bussed in from Idaho).
Finally in 1994, he moved away from Utah to Santa Cruz, California, where he maintains in his home the large archive of historical material related to both Utah and Mormonism. Connell became a Radical Faerie in 1988 and has continued active participation in this spiritual movement.
Connell has published several essays about Mormonism or his spiritual journey out of that religion, including three essays in Recreations: Religion and Spirituality in the Lives of Queer People (Catherine Lake, editor, 1999, Toronto). His many writings can be found on his website (above).
(This biographical statement provided by Connell O'Donovan.)
Biography Date: June, 2004
Mormon (Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints) | Radical Faeries | Affirmation (Gay and Lesbian Mormons) | Activist (religious institutions) | Author/editor | O'Donovan, Connell Hill