Private Eye | Sin or No Sin: Those who are at arms with Utah have a mistaken point. 

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I didn’t hear back from Seattle gay author and columnist Dan Savage regarding last week’s offer to bring him to Utah on our dime. I sent him an e-mail, also. I expressed that he could tell me to eff off, but that didn’t happen, either. I’d hoped he would meet local GLBT leaders and unite with them equally in a diligent fight for personal dignity. It’s not like people here—gay, Mormon, whatever—are dragging their knuckles on this issue. Indeed, if anything, the local GLBT community could use support from influential people like Savage, not derision. n

It would have been nice had he come for a spell to see firsthand that the call for gays nationally to boycott Utah in retaliation against the LDS Church’s involvement in helping pass Proposition 8 in California is counterproductive. Fact was, and remains, that such a boycott will hurt local gays and lesbians employed in the service industries first and hardest. They are not, as expressed by one coffee-shop blogger who chooses to bravely fight with a keyboard and a credit card, “collateral damage.” You can’t be collateral damage when you are on the front line of a long, hard battle for acceptance and recognition.

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Since Savage isn’t coming, the question for us is what to do with the money we committed to spending on him. That’s easy. Several years ago, we were asked to provide seed money for the Sexuality and Gender Studies Research Fund administered by the College of Humanities at the University of Utah. We made a sizeable commitment to be paid over five years. Other notable businesses also contributed early funds. Today the Gender Studies Program conducts important gender research, publishes papers and books, and attracts notable faculty and students into a university-level program with few equals. It’s amazing that such a program even exists, let alone in the “H8 State” of Utah, as innumerable ignorant bloggers now term our home turf. This year, we’ll contribute an additional $2,500 to the program—roughly the amount we would have spent trying to open Dan Savage’s angry eyes.

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It’s not likely that the Utah Legislature will ever provide funding for gay and lesbian research. One can never be straight enough, white enough, right-wing enough or Mormon enough for that lousy bunch (to the 25 or 30 percent of the nonbigots in the Utah Legislature, I apologize). Just ask Judge Robert Hilder. Despite being LDS and possessing a nearly perfectly burnished judicial bench résumé, Hilder was recently denied Utah Senate confirmation to Utah’s Court of Appeals. Why? Powerful legislators accused him of having a nasty demeanor (not true, according to a unanimous chorus of Utah attorneys). Not only that, he’s divorced and became red-faced when asked about it (as would anyone else publicly drilled on such a personal off-topic reference)—and he did not rule as the Legislature expected on the issue of concealed weapons being carried onto the University of Utah campus.

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It’s the last one that did him in. Everything else was a lie. Can you imagine if Hilder were gay, too? Which is the boiling enigma, isn’t it?

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There’s little doubt that Utah has its fair share of bigots. It’s too bad that so many manage to be elected to public office, even accepting that Utah is Republican-gerrymandered to the teeth. The poster child for that ugly face of Utah is Sen. Chris Buttars, R-West Jordan, who annually manages to put his vengeful bias on full display and was a champion in the defeat of Judge Hilder. Last year, he famously said, of one piece of legislation, “This baby is black. A dark, ugly thing” and, in 2005, sneeringly referred to Sen. Scott McCoy—who is openly Democrat—as “the gay.” Yet when canvassers worked to unseat him this past election, his neighbors referred to him as “Brother Buttars” whom they “trust.” So, who are the bigots—or haters, even?—Buttars, or the people who hand him the throttle to his runaway train? Do they condone his behavior, or are they blissfully blind?

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To that end, those who are currently at arms with Utah have a mistaken point. We’re not blind. From the outside, it’s easy to consider all of Utah a turgid pool of disposable bath water. Far from it. The anger is primarily aimed at the LDS Church (derisively deemed by Savage to be Magic Underpants Inc.), the most visible of organizations that fought for passage of Proposition 8, helping to raise millions in the process. But a Utah boycott will hardly affect the LDS Church. Unlike the gay-led Coors boycott in Colorado, there’s brand switching going on here—for every person believing the death of Utah is accelerated by not skiing here, a California Prop 8 supporter or a southern evangelical decides to give Utah powder a try. Read the blogs and online story comments if you doubt that. It’s hate versus hate—a zero-sum proposition.

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Equally, local and vocal Utahns who are forever strident about gay equality now believe they’ve been kneecapped by national gay organizers. However, the one thing the gay boycott has produced is something likely not considered: It’s not a boycott that will change things, it’s the bad publicity. If Mitt Romney—the idyllic image of all things good about Mormonism—thinks he had a tough presidential run this time around, he should find it even harder in 2012. He won’t be able to love the sinner next time, because he’s going to be asked right back: Which sinner do you refer to, me or you? And woe be unto the LDS missionary assigned to the Seattle mission, in Savage’s back yard!

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Those discussions and others like it will take place very publicly, and nationally, not atop Alta’s High Rustler ski run.

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