ST. GEORGE — Saturday evening more than 450 lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Utahns, along with their family members and supporters, gathered at the Dixie Center for the fourth annual Equality Utah Celebration where the discussion of securing equal rights took center stage.
The annual Equality Utah celebration has opened the door and allowed society to have needed conversations about existing inequalities, conversations that have created an incredible ripple effect, event coordinator Linda Stay said. Stay got involved with this cause after two of her children came out.
“Southern Utah is one of the reddest states, 95 percent of the people that came to our booth at the Washington County Fair didn’t know about the inequalities that exist,” Stay said. “There is a lot of misinformation and fear. That’s why I’m here. My goal is to normalize gay.”
The idea is to become a state that is just and fair to all, Equality Utah Co-chair Elise West said, and one of the key steps in achieving equality is education.
“Many people are unaware that in Utah you can still get fired from your job or kicked out of your housing for your sexual orientation or gender identity,” West said. “There doesn’t have to be proof. It could just be based on a rumor.”
Storyteller Janice Brooks was invited to be the emcee for this year’s event. A few people came to her, she said, and told her that they thought that by doing so she could ruin her reputation.
“I have a deep affection for human rights. I feel the honor was being seen as an advocate for humanity and to help fuel that energy,” Brooks said. “The problem of inequalities is masked in Southern Utah. It’s not covert but it is overt. Not blatant, it’s soft, gentle, which can be the most damaging. Moral imperative based on dogmatic beliefs is a tragedy.”
Keynote speaker and nationally recognized bishop Rev. Gene V. Robinson said that many people think that putting Christianity in alignment with lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender presents an oxymoron; but, he said, it is much the opposite and some of the most spiritual people are part of the LGBT community.
“When we as gays or lesbians read the Bible we see our own story,” Robinson said. “The Bible contains the seeds of our liberation.”
Its legal battles will continue, but the LGBT community rejoices in its victories. Robinson noted Friday’s ruling in Arkansas, in which Pulaski County Circuit Judge Chris Piazza struck down the state’s legislative amendment that effectively banned same-sex marriage. As in Utah, so Arkansas, the attorney has said he will appeal.
The idea of liberty and justice for all should be for all, Robinson said, pointing out that there is no asterisk after the word ‘all.’
“Equality is not a movement. This is another Friday,” Co-chair Dawn McLain said. “We don’t talk about a movement because it is our everyday life. At the end of the day, the fraction that you lose is nothing compared to the multitudes you gain when you stand up.”
While the progress for LGBT rights in Utah has been immense, from a policy angle there is still much road to be gained, said Executive Director Brandie Balken.
“It’s time that public attitudes are reflected in public policy,” Balken said. “Until I was in my 20s, I hadn’t realized the lack of protection for LGBTs, how vulnerable you were if you had a different sexual orientation or gender identity and how many of the community members needed protection.”
Former Democratic Party Chair, Sen. Jim Dabakis agreed. “Utah needs to be on the forefront,” he said. “A young man came up to me one time and told me that he was gay and that he didn’t tell anyone. He said ‘if I tell anyone that I’m gay they will think I’m a Democrat.’”
When Dabakis went to sign himself and his husband up for benefits, he said, he was the only senator who was denied spousal coverage.
“The days of quiet desperation are over,” he said.
Robinson had said in his speech that there will be hearts and minds to win over but that visibility is a kind of pressure of its own.
The LGBT community Saturday did not exhibit quiet desperation or invisibility. Rather those present displayed what Melynda Thorpe called “a strong attitude of hope.”
While there was a remarkable lack of comment from the speakers on the subject of Utah’s pending appeal over a December 2013 ruling that found the state’s marriage law unconstitutional, Thorpe said most were reflecting on the joyful unions that did take place even though the time was short in Utah.
Over 1,000 same-sex marriages were performed across Utah between Dec. 20, 2013, when the original ruling occurred and Jan. 6, when the U.S. Supreme Court granted a stay on the lower court’s ruling pending the state’s appeal.
“When they know us they’ll love us. That toothpaste ain’t going back in the tube,” Robinson said. “We are here and we are queer but the world is getting used to it.”
Click on photo to enlarge it, then use your left-right arrow keys to cycle through the gallery.
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