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Home / Articles / News / News Articles /  News | Somethin?s Happening Here: Salt Lake City?s gay-rights movement may have reached a tipping point.
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News | Somethin?s Happening Here: Salt Lake City?s gay-rights movement may have reached a tipping point.

By Ted McDonough
Posted // November 19,2008 - California’s Proposition 8 woke a sleeping gay army in Utah. So says Jacob Whipple, organizer of the first of several Salt Lake City rallies that followed passage of the ballot measure banning gay marriage. n

Whipple’s call brought thousands out on a freezing night to march around the headquarters of the LDS Church, which had urged its members to support passage of Proposition 8. But rather than letting off steam, it seems that march might have been the start of something big. Nov. 15 brought two more rallies, at City Hall and at Utah’s Capitol. It is impossible to keep up with the new Utah organizations, protests and lobbying groups growing around the issue of gay marriage. A new nonprofit group was recently incorporated in California with the aim of organizing a 1963-style march on Salt Lake City at the spring equinox.

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The emotions moving people to the streets is even out of the control of Utah’s established gay-rights groups. Many Utahns now organizing around Proposition 8 are first-time activists; several aren’t even gay.

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For Elaine Ball, organizer of the Nov. 15 rally at the Salt Lake City & County Building, it was the sight of a black man being elected president the same night that California stripped gays of existing marriage rights that drove her to action. She happened upon a Website for Join the Impact, a group organizing city-hall protests throughout the country, and in two days found herself organizing Utah’s event. Though she had worked on the Obama campaign, it’s the first time the 23-year-old University of Utah linguistics student had taken the lead on anything. Ball sees gay marriage as her generation’s civil-rights battle. “This is everyone standing together saying, ‘Gay rights are my rights,’” she says.

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In addition to rallies and sign carrying, Proposition 8 has caused the formation of a lobbying group dedicated to bringing gay marriage to the Beehive State. Like the rallies, Utahns for Marriage Equality was created on the fly through the magic of social networking on the Internet. Michael Muellera straight, married Salt Lake City architect with a gay cousin who married in Massachusetts—started Utahns Against Prop. 8 in October and helped to organize get-out-the-vote telephone calls to California. Within days of the election, the group had morphed into Utahns for Marriage Equality, which already has met with a core group of volunteers to create a lobbying strategy. Item 1 is to lobby for a list of legislative proposals put forward by the long-established Equality Utah that would give legal protections to gay couples short of marriage.

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“Proposition 8 has transformed a gay-rights movement to where now it’s a civil-rights movement,” Mueller says.

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Whipple’s activism was galvanized by watching protests in West Hollywood following the Proposition 8 election. “I was astounded the gay community was actually standing up for itself,” says the 29 year old. The California protests made his annual donation to the Human Rights Campaign look pale by comparison, he says. What ended with thousands outside of the LDS Church headquarters began with Whipple e-mailing a few friends asking them to stand with him in protest.

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A North Carolina Mormon who came to Utah to attend BYU, hoping the experience would “straighten” him, Whipple has been out for just six years. Following his first rally, he’s organizing a second for Jan. 24, the weekend after the presidential inauguration. Now linked up with nationwide activists through the Internet, Whipple is helping to organize rallies at city halls and statehouses throughout the country to call for a slate of legislation like the landmark mid-1960s laws that erased the vestiges of Jim Crow for blacks. Eventually, he wants a rally in Washington, D.C., aimed at pushing President Barack Obama to junk the federal Defense of Marriage Act and to add gays to federal nondiscrimination laws “with full inclusion of all GLBT members.”

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Whipple’s language is idealistic. “This is a really great opportunity to stand up and do something that will forever change history, to ensure constitutional rights for future generations.”

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He began his speech to the crowd at the Nov. 7 rally at City Creek Park by thanking the Mormon Church for backing Proposition 8. With many, he believes the California ballot measure has mobilized Utahns in way that the Utah’s own 2004 anti-gay marriage constitutional amendment couldn’t.

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“Utah, though it doesn’t know it yet, is one of the largest gay population areas per capita in the country,” he says. “I see Salt Lake City being one of the areas of major demonstrations in this movement, along with L.A., San Francisco and New York.”

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So does Shawn Cunningham. The Menlo Park, Calif., marketer created the “March on Salt Lake City” page on Facebook after Proposition 8 passed. The idea—an intentional reflection of the 1963 March on Washington, only with Utah as a landing spot for activists from throughout the country—is gathering momentum. A straight man with a gay mother, Cunningham was inspired by his mother’s crestfallen look at the passage of Proposition 8 so soon after he shared her elation at the election of Barack Obama. He is working with Utah activists on gathering permits for a weekend’s worth of activities in late March and lining up homes in Salt Lake City as a backstop in case the hotels fill up.

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Cunningham is trying to distance his march from calls to boycott Utah, which he calls “totally counterproductive.” Cunningham, as a marketer, thinks the symbolism of Utah to gay liberation is too powerful to ignore. To Cunningham and many others outside of the Beehive State, Utah symbolizes a mindset that has to go. His point is to move gay marriage away from a religious discussion to one of civil rights.

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“Utah chose itself,” says Cunningham, who worked in Utah for five years in the early 1990s. “Here we have a state that literally owes its entire being to a people who were chased across America in pursuit of freedom of expression now using their influence and economic power and organization to hold down the rights of others. It’s the perfect venue.” tttt

 
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REPLY TO THIS COMMENT
Posted // October 19,2010 at 14:51

Homosexuality is just wrong. God says it is wrong throughout the bible. The leader of the Church of Jesus Christ who is Jesus Christ says that it is wrong. Children should not have to live in a marriage that is wrong. God would not put a female spirit in a male body, because that would be wrong and vice versa. Everything in my soul tells me that the intimate acts in homosexuality are wrong. Godl who created us all created the intimacy to be between man and woman. Women are made with physical organs to care for children and no man how ever feminine can replace her. Nature tells us over and over, that homosexuality is wrong as noting could perpetuate itself through homosexuality. No matter how you vote on something that is wrong, it will still be wrong. You can't legislate wrong into right. Sodomy was named after sodom and Gamorah. It was wrong back then and it is wrong now. Therefore go live with someone of the same sex if you want to, but do it knowing it is wrong. Also know that it will never be right to give you marital status and the right to adopt children, or to force church leaders to marry an arrangement that is wrong. It will never give you the right to have religious organizations recognize you as being right. You will still be wrong, because it is not religion that says it's wrong, but God says its wrong. Change yourselves or in other words repent. Life is short, but life after death is eternal. Do what is right or reap the eternal consequences. You have your freedom just like a smoker has his freedom to breath second hand smoke into everybody's face. That does not make it right however, nor does it make it appreciated. Nevertheless, don't make the rest of us give up our rights and be forced to grant rights to something that is wrong.

 

REPLY TO THIS COMMENT
Posted // November 23,2008 at 18:43 Its thanksgiving. Im so thankful for my gay son. I could not have gotten a finer gift in life. I want to tell the whole world how good he is, how smart he is, and how I will stand for his civil rights. I gave him away at his wedding two years ago, cute. Hi partner is like another son. How blessed could one be. Give thanks everyone for the gay people in the world, they bring love and talent to all of us.

 

REPLY TO THIS COMMENT
Posted // November 23,2008 at 17:45 Tim,nnThat was a kind email. I guess my difficulty is in separating the person from the issue. For me, its hard to understand how someone can still love you, yet actively work against something that is in your interest. Yet it seems you are still somehow displaying love to your cousin, while actively supporting Proposition 8.nnIt is especially difficult for me when homosexuality is labelled as sinful, unnatural, against God’s will, against the family etc. by the church, by some supporters of Proposition 8, and by those who are anti-gay (whatever anti-gay may mean). These are all very personal insults, and they hurt. nnI dont feel like a sinful, unnatural person, and I certainly love my family and God, though I’m not that fond of most established religions. I just don’t feel that the labels from the church fit, and I can’t relate to them, so I naturally fight against them.nnI dont like people judging me but thats exactly how I feel the church treats me. I dont feel welcome at church services, and I cant bare the labels that the church puts onto me. I am genuinely happy with my life and feel peace, fulfilment etc. (you know all those fruits that evidence that something is right). This is why I dont support the Mormon church - that said, Im not going to propose a proposition to ban Mormons - that would be unfair.nnAnyway, if you come back on here, I propose our question be should all loving couples be afforded the luxury of marriage?nngs.rusty

 

REPLY TO THIS COMMENT
Posted // November 23,2008 at 17:09 To gs.rusty:nnI warmly thank you for your apology. On that note, I know I also need improvement in how I deal with those with whom disagree. I recently emailed my gay cousin, who lives with his partner in CA, with these words:nn“I’m sure you’re pretty upset about Prop 8. I supported it, as you might have guessed, but I know you are likely very saddened by it, so I want to express my empathy for what would unquestioningly be one of the more difficult things I can imagine having to face in life. I know you and [name omitted] love each other and try to be good people. While many on differing sides of the issue will never agree with each other, I hope we can all learn to be more patient, civil, understanding, and loving.” His response was a respectful and civil one.nnAbout not wanting to argue further, I might agree, as I have already spent too much time on here tonight. I may come back later though. If we do continue, perhaps we could come up with a good question to discuss.nnTo willemkraal@mac.com:nnYou have shown yourself to be presently incapable of intelligent response. I know you have the capacity, and I hope that in time it may surface.nnTo mark:nnGiven what you claim, I find it ironic that you felt the need to respond to me at all, or that innumerable others on innumerable other discussion boards did too.

 

REPLY TO THIS COMMENT
Posted // November 23,2008 at 16:48 Tim,nnyou are right and i apologise for my last post - it was unneccessary and unfairly played with stereotypes.nnto be honest i dont really want to get into an argument about equal rights. it seems everyone is being positional and that no one is really willing to listen to the other side. nnha, i guess that includes me.nnanyway, i will argue if you want, could you please clarify what we are arguing about though.nngs.rusty

 

 
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