Anybody who has attended the Utah Pride Festival, visited Utah’s Pride Center or used the University of Utah’s LGBT Resource Center can attest to the support available for the local gay community. Yet, many still struggle with identifying as gay in Utah.
Sam Lindeman, who attended the University of Utah in his freshman and sophomore years, grew up in Sandy, where he came out as gay at the end of middle school.
“It’s not very different, being gay on campus and being gay in Utah,” Lindeman said. “Sometimes, when I’m in public, I feel like I’m being judged, but while on campus, I never feel judged for being gay.”
Surprisingly, it’s not the treatment by straights that makes Lindeman dissatisfied with being gay in Utah, but the LGBTQ community itself that leaves him wanting more.
“Here, the gay community is like a clique,” he explained. “You have to shop at all these preppy stores and you have to work out and you have to be white and you have to be into certain types of music. The community serves largely gay men, and they don’t really like lesbians or people of minority.”
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He argues the gay community may look strong but is not supportive of those who don't fit the mold. "I mean, we’re in America and there’s this model of the female and male form that is universally attractive," Lindeman said. "I think that people, especially in Utah, are exclusive because Utah is dominated by a white population. We’re surrounded by the model of the perfect person and that’s the kind of community we’re raised in.”
Brigham Young University graduate student Brent Kerby, who will be transferring to the University of Utah in the fall, said that LGBTQ students in Utah, even those at BYU, should not fear coming out because “people can be, and are, accepting.” BYU allows students to openly identify as gay as long as they do not participate in or advocate “homosexual behavior.”
Kerby advises students to consider how they present themselves. “Mormons, in general, tend to be very good people, and I’ve found that other BYU students are almost always understanding and accepting. But homosexuality may be something foreign to them, so it’s important to be really clear and explain what it means. If you just say, ‘I’m gay,’ then people might not get it—they may just think of stereotypes.”
Kerby said that it’s helpful to explain that being gay is not a choice, but rather a part of who somebody is.
“You may have to explain things a little more in depth,” he said. “Explain how old you were when you realized your attractions were different, and explain the whole process of how you’ve dealt with it. Explain that one’s orientation is something that, for most people, is a permanent part of who they are, regardless of whether they might want it to change. You don’t have to hide or be ashamed. The church says it’s not a sin for a person to be same-gender oriented, as long as they keep the church standards.”
Even though Lindeman said that he has a hard time meeting people, let alone finding a partner, he said that the stories and assumptions about how difficult it is to be gay in Utah are not true.
“Ignore all the hype about Utah and how bad it’s going to be,” Lindeman said. “It’s not that bad, and if you have a lot of fear because you’re gay and you’re coming from out of state, you shouldn’t be [afraid]. It’s different from other more diverse places, like New York, but it’s not bad being gay here. It’s really conservative and stuff, but people here don’t go out of their way to make your life miserable.”
Utah Pride Center
355 N 300 West, 801-539-8800
The Utah Pride Center is a nonprofit organization that works with the LGBT community and others for acceptance and equality. The Pride Center hosts the annual Pride festival, which brings Utah’s community, gay and straight, together each June. During the year, the Pride Center offers men’s and women’s support groups, LGBT AA meetings, HIV testing, Sunday brunches and more.
LGBT Resource Center
A. Ray Olpin Union, Fourth Floor, 200 South Central Campus Drive, 801-587-7973
The Resource Center at the University of Utah aims to “create and maintain an open, safe, and supportive environment for LGBT students, staff, faculty, alumni and the entire campus community,” according to its mission statement. The center provides programs, services and events that foster an inclusive community and builds relationships with other campus groups through community outreach.
1840 S 1300 East, 801-832-3260
The Inclusion Center at Westminster College is a resource center for community and justice, including equality for the LGBT community. Programs for youth and adults focus on understanding social issues, leadership and more.
Each week, Simply Social, a group for gay men in Utah, holds activities such as barbecues, lunch meetings, slip & slide parties and more. The goal of the group is to foster a strong community and to help build friendships. Everybody is invited to attend. Details to events are found on Simply Social’s website.
Matis Home Firesides
Each month, Fred and Marilyn Matis, whose gay son Stuart committed suicide in 2000, sponsor a fireside at their home for gay LDS men and women and their family and friends where they can discuss and better understand their situations. The firesides can range in attendance from 100 to 200 people.
Hosted by Scott and Sarah Nicholson, Mormon Homosexual, or “MoHo” parties take place at their residence (Facebook message Scott for the address) the final Saturday of each month. Everybody is welcome—gay, straight, Momon or non-Mormon—to the parties, which are casual and a good place to meet new friends, enjoy some food, and play Wii or karaoke. Those interested in attending can join the Facebook group “MoHo Parties.”