bad mormon

The Mormon Church Won’t Let Heather Gay Make Merch

Photo: Corey Nickols/Getty Images

Heather Gay knows all about being a bad Mormon. She ended her “eternal” marriage by getting divorced. She “brazenly” displays a coffee maker in her kitchen and refers to it as her first “open sin.” She recently got so drunk while filming Real Housewives of Salt Lake City she blacked out and couldn’t remember how she woke up with a black eye. But if the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the erstwhile Mormon Church, has anything to say about it, there is no way in outer darkness Gay should be allowed to capitalize on being a “bad Mormon.” Following the February 7 release of her memoir, titled Bad Mormon, the Church is opposing Gay’s request to sell merchandise to fans (and other ex-Mormons) with the cheeky name.

Gay, 40, grew up devoted to the Church. She attended Brigham Young University, served as a missionary volunteer representative in France, and married into Mormon royalty. Then her marriage fell apart. She writes that the congregation began to treat her differently, and she lost friends and close family members as she became ostracized from her community. Gay’s clean break from the religion finally happened when she realized the negative “through-line” in her life was Mormonism.

“Mormonism was kind of the center of my universe,” she said. “It informed every choice I made. How I dressed, what I ate, where I went to college, who I married, how I got married, and that I was a stay-at-home mom.”

Gay said things changed when she decided to start living her life authentically for herself and her daughters, Ashley, 19, Georgia, 17, and Annabelle, 15.

“I’m a bad Mormon now because I stopped believing in this institution that had bigoted principles and was teaching me to basically look at my daughters and lie to them and say, ‘You know, marriage is only between a man and a woman, women can never have the priesthood, and men are the only way we can get into heaven,’” Gay said.

Prior to her book release, Gay asked the Church to expunge her name from its records — a standard request typically granted by bishops — but the LDS appears determined to prevent Gay from profiting off the break. The idea for Bad Mormon came from Gay’s publisher, who suggested it after Real Housewives musical-parody writer Dylan MarcAurele posted a song with that title during the COVID-19 lockdown.

“I immediately cringed because I thought, Oh, I could never proudly say ‘bad Mormon’; that would be blasphemous, and I’d be ruined,” Gay said. “But you know, after the show aired, after my life just kind of changed — and it really did change my life — I started to kind of forge my own identity, and it felt like a bad Mormon was exactly who I was.”

Before her book party without a book, Gay had filed a request to trademark the name Bad Mormon so she could emblazon it on a wide variety of merchandise she planned to sell. The list of potential items included T-shirts, bottle openers, beer mugs, and coffee mugs, along with shirts, sweaters, hats, scarves, pants, shorts, socks, shoes, tank tops, jackets, coats, and sweats. She also wanted to use the name for a podcast on which she would discuss religion, gossip, education, personal growth, current events, and social issues. She said she was taken aback by both the Church’s extreme opposition and the fact that she is now litigating over it.

Photo: Bravo/Randy Shropshire/Bravo

“I’m all about the merch,” Gay said. “I knew they couldn’t trademark the title, but you know, I wanna wear and have “Bad Mormon” merch. I built my business trademarking our services. So when I filed the trademarks, I thought that the Church wouldn’t have any position on it because they’ve renounced the word Mormon and they’ve actually told members of the faith that using the term Mormon is a victory for Satan.”

“We’re in active litigation right now,” Gay continued. “They’re basicallying saying, ‘We don’t wanna use the word Mormon, but we don’t want anyone else to make money off of it.’ I think that with the visibility of Housewives and with the secrets that are in this book, it’s not a good look for the Mormon Church, and they definitely don’t want to have a surge of people wearing ‘Bad Mormon’ sweatshirts.”

While researching Heather’s request back in May, a trademark attorney with the United States Patent and Trademark Office found there were “no conflicting marks that would bar registration” of her slogan. The Church promptly disagreed and filed paperwork opposing Gay’s request, saying it owns the legal rights to the words Mormon, Book of Mormon, and Mormon Tabernacle Choir.

Despite the Church allowing the nine-time Tony Award–winning musical The Book of Mormon to thrive, LDS attorneys said in their court papers that Gay would be using “the name of an ancient prophet” and that her request would damage the Church’s reputation and goodwill, causing “confusion, garnishment, and dilution” by falsely suggesting “a connection or affiliation with or approval or endorsement” from the Church. (An attorney representing the Church has not responded to Vulture’s request for comment.)

Trademark expert attorney Jennifer Ko Craft said she doesn’t think the Church has a strong case even though it used the word Mormon for hundreds of years. “Personally, I believe the mark has become what I consider genericized,” said Craft, a partner at the Dickinson Wright law firm in Las Vegas. “You can own a mark at one point, but if it becomes so commonplace, so used in a descriptive manner like this, then the owner loses those rights. So as it currently sits today, yes, they do have those registrations. I don’t think they’re very strong. I think they would have a hard time succeeding in this opposition.”

Gay said she has already felt the fallout from the memoir. While friends have reached out to congratulate her, she has yet to hear from any members of her family or any fellow Housewives. Still, she has no regrets about sharing her experiences with the world.

“I wrote it for my daughters and for my own legacy, and I think it’s gonna help everyone: bad Catholics, bad Jews, bad Greeks, anybody that’s ever disappointed their family or realized that living authentically somehow went against what they were taught to be,” she said.

Gay, who is always quick to crack a joke in any situation, often at her own expense, said the Church’s adamant opposition to the “Bad Mormon” merch is comical. “It seems sort of funny because there are “Bad Jew” or “Bad Catholic” T-shirts and sweatshirts and merch, and, you know, no one’s stepping in to sort of stop that,” Gay explained. “I don’t think the Pope is suing anyone wearing a “Bad Catholic” T-shirt, so what’s that about?”

The Mormon Church Won’t Let Heather Gay Make Merch