Gay Mormon gets real on 'Survivor'
Talk of the Morning: Utah's Prime-Time Connection
By Vince Horiuchi
The Salt Lake Tribune
Salt Lake Tribune
In a television reality show based on deception and trickery, a
self-described "gay, Mormon, Ivy League grad, wilderness guide" who
was born in Salt Lake City is leading this season's "Survivor."
Rafe Judkins, a Brown University graduate who now lives in
Providence, R.I., is one of six remaining players to "outwit, outplay
and outlast" in the jungles of Guatemala on the hit CBS series, which
airs tonight at 7 p.m. on KUTV Channel 2. And in the face of the
show's typically backstabbing, conniving gameplay, Judkins is
"surviving" with honesty, sincerity and a positive outlook, traits he
has in part attributed to his faith.
But his announcement in last week's episode about his sexuality and
faith has led many fans of the top-10 show to wonder: Can someone be
gay and Mormon?
"Is Rafe setting himself up for discipline from his local temple
when he describes himself as a gay Mormon?" asked one fan on message
forums for Television- WithoutPity.com, a TV fan site.
In Judkins' case, the answer is no because he was never baptized in
the church, although he was raised in a large family of active Mormons
in Utah, including more than 50 cousins and some 20 aunts and uncles
who still live in the state.
Nevertheless, the 22-year-old considers himself a member of the Mormon f=
"I would call myself a gay Mormon. They [the church] would not call
me a Mormon. But it's a part of who I am. I grew up with my family, we
eat scalloped potatoes at funerals, we have Jell-O all the time like
we're Mormon," he joked in an interview with CBS.com (contestants are
not allowed to talk to news media during the show's run.)
"Mormons are so focused on family and caring for other people, and
there are so many things about the Mormon religion that I want to
bring to my life," he added. "When I have a husband and kids, I want
us to have Family Home Evening on Monday nights, and I'll get together
and play board games or do whatever. I think the Mormon church has so
much good that you can take from it."
Judkins has been one of the few contestants in the show's 11
seasons to play the game with little or no deceit, instead choosing to
be genuine and loyal to alliances with tribe mates. In one episode, he
was near tears over the way one of his teammates taunted a rival
contestant during a challenge.
"[His personality] is a combination of who he is and his religious
views," said his mother, Lani Lee, a former artist who helps run
Judkins' father's invention business in Pittsburgh. "He went to
seminary in high school. He's a Mormon in heritage."
Judkins and his family moved from Salt Lake City to Pittsburgh when
he was about 5. He has degrees in anthropology and biology but wants
to be a Hollywood screenwriter.
Though his sexuality has been known to his immediate family for
some time, his extended relatives in Utah were not aware of it until
this last summer.
"It wasn't a shock to me, but I'm sure it was to other people," Lee
said of her son's homosexuality. "[The relatives] said, 'This is a
shock, but we're drawing the wagons around you.' "
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, like Catholics and
Baptists, believes engaging in homosexuality is a sin. In the LDS
Church, such behavior leads to excommunication.
"We cannot stand idle if they indulge in immoral activity, if they
try to uphold and defend and live in a so-called same-sex marriage
situation," wrote LDS President Gordon B. Hinkley in 1998. "To permit
such would be to make light of the very serious and sacred foundation
of God-sanctioned marriage and its very purpose, the rearing of
Rafe's rising popularity on "Survivor" has made him "an icon of
sorts" in the gay and lesbian community, said Michael Aaron, executive
editor of Salt Lake Metro, a Utah gay and lesbian biweekly newspaper
that featured Judkins on the cover in September.
"The stereotype of the gay man is that he always goes to the bars
and does alcohol and drugs and sex," Aaron said. "And it turns out we
have a person who is the flagship gay boy who doesn't smoke or drink
and has had a partner of so many years. To show that side of the
community is new and unusual.
"They [other gays] can see that there's somebody more like them
that doesn't speak with a lisp or the stereotype that they internalize
themselves," he added. "They can relate better to him than to Jack on
"Will & Grace" or what goes on in the "Queer as Folk" shows."
Russ Gorringe, president of Reconciliation, a Utah-based gay and
lesbian group that still embraces the Mormon faith, agrees Judkins is
good for the image of gays who do not want to shed their Mormonism.
"They come out of the closet to be a whole person, to be who they
are. But often, by coming out of the closet, they put their faith in
the closet and bolt the doors," Gorringe said. "And that is sad
because there is a place for us at the table of Christ."