Jay Bell was born on September 4, 1948, in the small town of Trona,
California, in the Mojave Desert, to a Latter-Day Saint (Mormon) family. After
graduating from high school, Jay served an LDS mission that included spending
some time on a “Lamanite” (Native American) reservation. He then went to Brigham
Young University (BYU), where he received a Bachelor of Arts in 1986.
Despite being completely blind in one eye and legally blind in the other, Jay
Bell was an avid reader and researcher. His love for research dates back at
least to the mid-1980s, when he was student at BYU. Years before the internet,
Jay belonged to a group known as the “Xerox Priests,” an underground group of
BYU students who spent hours photocopying the controversial Mormon historical
documents that were emerging in those days. Jay was perpetually collecting
documents and sharing them with those who asked for a copy.
Jay Bell’s interest in Affirmation: Gay & Lesbian Mormons and his
desire to start his coming out process began, like many of his passions, in an
intellectual way. One day, a BYU professor gave him a copy of Prologue,
an article that had caused a stir at BYU by critiquing anti-gay teachings and
initiatives by LDS church leaders. Some time after that, Jay Bell started to
attend meetings of Family Fellowship, an organization of Mormon parents who
support their homosexual children.
Jay Bell attended his first meeting of Affirmation in Salt Lake City in
1995. In Affirmation, Jay Bell blossomed. Eventually, in the year 2000, Jay Bell
occupied an important position in Affirmation as an assistant director in the
national executive committee.
Jay Bell started to do gay Mormon research in 1995--the same year he came out
as a gay man. His first research project was looking for gay Mormon-related
articles in the local papers--especially the Deseret News and the
Salt Lake Tribune. He later expanded his research over the internet,
"capturing" hundreds of pages with gay Mormon-related articles from the web. Jay
Bell conducted research outside Utah--at the One Institute and Archives in Los
Angeles and at the Library of Congress in Washington D.C.
During the last years of his life, Jay Bell was a permanent fixture at the
LDS Church Historical Library on Temple Square and the Special Collection at the
Marriot Library. His concern for the preservation of Gay Mormon history led him
in the year 2000 to start the Affirmation Collection at the Marriot Library. He
also worked with community historian Ben Williams to start a similar collection
of Utah gay history.
Eventually, Jay Bell wrote several articles for the website of Affirmation:
Gay and Lesbian Mormons (www.affirmation.org). He also composed a
CD-Rom that he willingly shared free of charge with interested parties. The “Jay
Bell CD-Rom,” which Affirmation offers for a small donation, is a compilation of
some 130 documents and articles related to homosexuality in the LDS Church and
the Community of Christ. Jay Bell’s research also inspired the leaders of
Affirmation to expand the Affirmation website in celebrating gay Mormon history
and paying tribute to those who have helped make that history.
Jay died as consequence of a traffic accident in Salt Lake City, Utah, on
December 18, 2003, precisely when his remarkable research was beginning to bear
fruit. In honor of Jay Bell, Affirmation: Gay and Lesbian Mormons created the
Jay Bell Fund for Gay Mormon Studies, with the purposes of combating ignorance,
intolerance, and bigotry, and helping preserve GLBT Mormon experience and
history. Using monies from that fund, Affirmation recently completed “Affinity:
The First 22 Years,” an important CD-Rom project which includes all issues of
the Affirmation newsletter from the charter issue (March 1980) to April 2002
Shortly after going to Washington D.C. for the Millennium March, Jay
Bell wrote the following for Affinity, the Affirmation newsletter: "As
I sat on the grass of the National Mall, I found myself reflecting on what had
brought me here from a very closeted and homophobic condition. I remember
gingerly going to a Family Fellowship quarterly forum, and then under the
‘protection’ of Gary and Millie Watts, attending my first Affirmation meeting in
Salt Lake City. I soon found out that there was no need for my homophobia or
stereotyping of gays. I was brainwashed and I needed reeducation...”
“I sat there on the National Mall grass realizing that each Affirmation
conference has empowered and refreshed me, making me a better human being. It's
helped me feel secure in my identity.”
Information about Jay Bell and the Jay Bell Fund for Gay Mormon Studies is
permanently posted at www.affirmation.org/jaybellfund.
(This biographical statement provided by Hugo Salinas.)
Biography Date: October, 2006
Mormon (Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints) | Affirmation (Gay and Lesbian Mormons) | Utah | Bell, Jay
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