Cronkite faculty associate publishes book on gay rights, Mormonism

Michelle Beaver, a Walter Cronkite School faculty associate, published her book about gay rights and Mormonism in late July this year. (Madeline Pado/DD)

When Walter Cronkite School faculty associate Michelle Beaver took an in-depth reporting class as a student at ASU, a seed was planted. Beaver chose to write about a topic that piqued her curiosity: the relationship between gay rights and Mormonism and the select few who identify with both categories.

Twelve years later, that seed has grown into a full-fledged story. Beaver published her book, “Romney’s Gay America: Mormon Leaders, Same-Sex Rights — Bridging the Gap,” online in late July this year.

“Romney’s Gay America” focuses on the struggle between gay rights supporters and Mormons. Beaver hopes that the book will help ease tensions and promote understanding. Though the title is “Romney’s Gay America,” Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney himself has little to do with the subject matter of the book.

“He is the reason that people are talking about Mormons right now,” Beaver said. “He’s kind of a prism to view this topic. People just didn’t really care much about Mormons, let alone gay rights and Mormonism.”

When Beaver started researching this topic, hardly anyone was thinking about it. Even Beaver hadn’t previously considered it, which only served to further inspire her curiosity.

“I had never thought about the fact that some Mormons would be gay. It just didn’t seem to exist,” Beaver said.

The article Beaver wrote for her in-depth reporting class began as a personality profile on a gay Mormon she knew. When he mentioned the shock therapy experiments used in 1976 on gay participants at Brigham Young University, a Mormon school in Utah, Beaver’s article began to transform.

“I ended up making the whole story about that,” Beaver said.

Beaver’s passion was clear from the beginning. Stephanie Paterik, a student who worked alongside Beaver in the in-depth reporting class, called her article “incredibly powerful.”

“I think she really throws herself into every story she writes,” Paterik said.

This devotion was outlined last year, when Beaver wrote a series on gay rights and Mormonism for an association of 12 San Francisco Bay Area newspapers. The two-day series, a long and laborious project, ran in all 12 papers.

“That was easily hundreds of hours of work,” Beaver said.

All the time and devotion Beaver put into the research paid off. Because of the wealth of information she had gathered, the first draft of the book took her less than three weeks to write. She had been reporting in anticipation of writing a book since her first in-depth reporting class, and for those 12 years, much of her work was building up to the publication of “Romney’s Gay America.”

“I remember writing that piece and thinking, ‘This should be a book.’ I remember having a big binder, highly organized with tabs, just everything is where it should be, and I remember being like 21 years old and having the pride in this wealth of resources I’d gathered,” Beaver said.

Beaver said the first step to writing the book was knowing that there was too much information just for an article.

“I couldn’t fit it all in an in-depth article for a class. I just knew it was supposed to be something more cohesive than that,” she added.

Publishing the book was a frustrating leg of Beaver’s journey. She unsuccessfully attempted to get the book published after California’s Proposition 8, which eliminated the rights of same-sex couples to marry, passed in 2008. Publishers showed interest as Mitt Romney rose to prominence in national politics, but because publishing is a slow process, Beaver’s book still had no takers; the election would be long over before the book could be released.

“This had all been percolating for so long. It was very frustrating in the wake of Prop. 8 to not get a book deal, and then it was frustrating when I finally had the interest of publishers not be able to get a book deal, because it was simply impossible,” Beaver said.

Eventually Beaver self-published the book through Amazon, where it is available online for $3.99.

Gary Watts, a Mormon father who is featured prominently in Beaver’s research, said “Romney’s Gay America” is “a prized book for me. One that can strike the right tone.”

Paterik also expressed her pleasure with Beaver’s writing.

“I was really struck by how level-headed and fair-minded it was,” she said.

Not all the responses have been positive.

“I do have a friend who thinks it’s too pro-Mormon, and then I got a little bit of feedback from some Mormon groups who won’t even read it because they think that it’ll be anti-Mormon,” Beaver said.

Despite the controversy, Beaver said she knows she did a good job.

“Sometimes I feel like I just can’t win. But I’ve heard that if both sides think that you are favoring the other side, then you probably did something right,” she said.

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Clarification: Oct. 1, 2012

An earlier version of this article said Beaver wrote a series for 12 “San Francisco Bay” newspapers, which has been changed to say “San Francisco Bay Area.”