It's always been hard for Utah's LGBTQ+ community, but it shouldn't have to be. | Private Eye | Salt Lake City Weekly

It's always been hard for Utah's LGBTQ+ community, but it shouldn't have to be. 

Private Eye

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As we approach another Pride celebration in Salt Lake City—and as we are in the midst of producing our own Pride issue as I write this—I can't help but recall all the difficulties the LGBTQ+ communities have overcome to reach this point. It's never been easy—it's always been hard.

City Weekly is proud to have been witness to and a primary documenter of the challenges that begat this colorful, robust and energized community for so many years.

I've been asked why I have supported the gay and lesbian community—because after all, I was born a real man, in the real mining town of Bingham, Utah, where men were real men. As soon as I'm asked that, I readily know that the question has been asked of me by an idiot who chose not to grow up.

Not by a bigot. Bigotry is a learned trait (groomed, perhaps?). That's different from being an idiot.

So, I usually just give back a simple answer: Yes, I grew up in a mining town, and yes, I heard stories about the behavior of men in miner boarding houses or of other men who ventured into the valley to buy fancy shoes. I also heard the whispered rumors that certain women were not really sisters, nor widows. It was no big deal to me.

The community I grew up in was quite embracing of multi-ethnicities, and the private lives of the citizens were kept primarily private. I just cannot recall, at any point, another human being in Bingham being unkind to another human being (outside of bar fights) and therefore, I'm sorry for the people who ask me that question. I'm glad I didn't grow up where they did.

Next, I'll usually ask if they went to school—not to begrudge their education, but because it's a certain commonality everyone seems to share. I ask if they ever heard another person called a "sissy" or a "tomboy" on a school playground. They always have—always—which begets the next question: "So, you knew in the third grade that a classmate was 'different.' Did you still play with them? Oh, you did. That's nice. Then, why don't you play with them today? What changed?"

There's only one thing that could have changed: they themselves. Why did they exchange the joy of a school playground for the bitterness of not allowing their old friends to buy a gay-themed wedding cake? It's a lifelong mystery to me.

Why did my good buddies in third grade "choose" to grow up to be scorned, cornered, hated, abused, ostracized and beaten? They didn't. None of them made that "choice." They were just kids. They are just human beings now, as we all are. The choice is to be a good human or bad, not straight or gay.

These past six or eight years have been especially hard on all minority communities. This month of Pride isn't about grooming the next generation of LGBTQ+ people but of recognizing that we all have important lives and souls and that life is less meaningful without vibrant connections to one another and of fully belonging to the whole of humanity.

It's a tough row, however. Some people are quite content with being bigoted and mean. Some are taught that by their parents, some at work and some by religious mentors. Some, though, are violently acting out.

One of this newspaper's very first stories about the gay community was on the subject of gay bashing. I asked my kids if they knew what that was, and they didn't, which I took as a good thing. But just over 30 years ago, it wasn't so easy for gay persons to openly mingle.

Today, most clubs are considered gay friendly. Back then, however, Salt Lake City had a thriving gay club scene—The Sun Tavern, The Sun Trapp, The Deer Hunter, Puss N Boots, Radio City and others—that kept the gay and lesbian community separate (meaning out of sight) from the masses. Those clubs were often as not in slightly isolated parts of the city.

As such, it was not uncommon for a bunch of rowdy "straight" men to take baseball bats to the windshields of cars parked outside those clubs and bash the windows out. Others brazenly walked up to persons they suspected of being gay and knocked the crap out of them.

Our story was about such behavior and the crimes that arose but were, often as not, unreported to police. The story was a shock in some polite SLC circles, as they'd never heard of such a thing.

A number of local shops began asking for our paper because we told stories no one else would. And of course, a distribution drop-off location or two told us to get our "queer lover" newspapers out of there. At the time, we thought, "Are you kidding? This is a crime story." Sigh.

The Sun Tavern then resided on west Second South (later destroyed through God's will by the great tornado of 1999). I personally delivered our papers there for that particular gay bashing story issue and sat down to a beer.

I asked the bartender about the story. He just shrugged and said, "It's bad, no one should be hurt, but those guys who did that will be my customers in a few years," going on to explain that on numerous occasions, a customer came to him years later, after coming out as gay, to apologize and ask forgiveness for similar actions.

Then he told me that my beers were a buck-fifty. In that moment, I knew he and I were just two humans trying to get by. It shouldn't be so hard. But it always is—it always is.

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About The Author

John Saltas

John Saltas

John Saltas, Utah native and journalism/mass communication graduate from the University of Utah, founded City Weekly as a small newsletter in 1984. He served as the newspaper's first editor and publisher and now, as founder and executive editor, he contributes a column under the banner of Private Eye, (the original... more

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