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as the “Xerox Priests,” an underground group of BYU students who spent hours photocopying the controversial Mormon historical documents that were emerging in those days.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 (see www.affirmation.org/affinitycollection ).
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