LGBT Rights: LDS Temple protests too radical? | Buzz Blog

LGBT Rights: LDS Temple protests too radical?

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Though gay-rights demonstrations at Salt Lake City's LDS Temple Square have become normal since 2008, that protest location was once reserved mostly for anti-Mormon bible thumping bigots.--- City Weekly's Jesse Fruhwirth and Brandon Burt discuss what it means, and whether it's working.

When the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was blamed as a crucial proponent of Prop. 8, a ballot initiative that banned same-sex marriage in California (previously, it was legal), the queer community in Utah erupted and more than 5,000 people protested outside the Temple Square walls in downtown Salt Lake City. The level of gay rights activism and rhetoric in Utah has been near fever pitch ever since.

But demonstrating against the LDS Church at one of its most holy sites is undeniably bold, many would say radically so, and still others consider it hateful. But it keeps happening. On Oct. 7, Quorum of the Twelve president Boyd K. Packer was the target of a silent protest at Temple Square, in which 4,500 queers and their allies demonstrated their objection to his words days earlier, which were perceived as homophobic. The queer community was, and still is, mourning several well-publicized queer youth suicides.

Below, Burt and Fruhwirth--both queer--discuss what these last two years of gay activism have meant, and whether the tactics are working to shift attitudes of LDS leadership, but more importantly, the LDS community.


From:Jesse Fruhwirth
Sent: Tuesday, October 12, 2010 10:06 AM
To: Brandon Burt
Subject: Great post!

Brandon,

Your blog post A Response to President Packer's 'Cleansing the Inner Temple' was pitch-perfect, well headlined for its content and well received (it was one of the most-read pieces of the week, according to Google Analytics). It seemed aimed at converting the Mormon-majority movable middle, which I think is a great place to aim as we write critically of church leadership or LDS culture.

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I wonder, though, would your relatively gentle critique of the LDS Church in regards to LGBT issues be so well received by the Mormon community if there weren't angry queers and allies at the Temple walls acting as your foil? My theory is that upon seeing or hearing the anger from the more forceful or radical members of the LGBT community, the Mormon community finds your poised critique infinitely reasonable and less threatening. And many Mormons do find your critique reasonable, if comments on your most recent post are any indication (and I believe they are). I wonder if your post would seem nonthreatening if there were not angry voices around? For another example, I've always thought the only way the soft-spoken and diplomatic Gang of 5 got a meeting with the LDS Church leaders was by riding the wave of emotion--much of it anger--displayed at all the kiss-ins and the Prop. 8 Temple protest of 2008. Your thoughts?

Related: The Golden Rule and the LDS/LGBT conflict


From: Brandon Burt
Sent: Tuesday, October 14, 2010 2:25 AM
To: Jesse Fruhwirth
Subject: Re: Great post!

When I write, I hope my words are reasonable on their own, and not just by comparison with protest slogans. The supportive and heartfelt comments I received from Mormons gave me hope that the rift in our community can one day be healed.

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I began writing my response to President Packer’s talk Sunday evening and published it early Monday morning, before I had heard anything about Eric Ethington’s plans to organize a demonstration at Temple Square. I was saddened and disheartened by Packer’s failure to recognize all the progress that has been made in recent years between the LDS Church authorities and the families of gay and lesbian Mormons.

Still, it was obvious the LGBT community would have to respond. Given the emotionally charged nature of the General Conference talk, I feared tempers would rise and people would end up saying things in anger that would cause even more contention and divisiveness than Packer’s words had. People work better in an atmosphere of mutual respect, and it’s to the LGBT community’s credit that thousands of demonstrators comported themselves with dignity at the protest.

Both Packer and the protesters were exercising their 1st Amendment rights. But, as you pointed out, many members of the LDS Church regard any kind of protest as a threat. Already, it’s spurred another letter-writing campaign in support of anti-gay beliefs. How effective do you think this kind of political action ultimately is? Do the benefits outweigh the drawbacks?

Related: Which is worse? "Tendencies" or "temptations"?


From: Jesse Fruhwirth
Sent: Tuesday, October 14, 2010 10:17 AM
To: Brandon Burt
Subject: Re: Great post!

Yes, any social movement reaps the most rewards from a "full-court press" strategy of social change. By that, I mean, embracing a wide spectrum of personalities and activism strategies while somehow keeping them under the same community umbrella. This was largely what Lisa Duggan wrote about in The Nation magazine in July 2009, wherein she expressed almost amazement at how well Utah's queer community had done just that: kept the radicals friendly with the establishment organizations with everybody working separately and yet together.

You bring up an interesting point that the past week's activism has inspired "another letter-writing campaign in support of anti-gay beliefs." I agree that the strongest, angriest, most radical reactions to various news events do have the unintended consequence of reinforcing a siege mentality amongst the power structure being criticized, in this case, the LDS Church leadership and its most dogmatic supporters. In the end, however, I think honesty is the best policy. When people honestly feel embittered or angry, those people should express that anger and bitterness. Why? Well, always hiding those emotions and always portraying the movement in question--in this case, Utah's queer community--as emotionally composed and utterly respectful robs others of seeing the true impacts being felt.

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In his first act of activism, the organizer of the 2008 Temple Square protest, Jacob Whipple, got on stage right after the first speaker, a very angry Troy Williams, who blasted LDS leadership (calling out by name many general authorities who he said are "polygamists in heaven," for example). Whipple urged subsequent speakers to strike the tone of "Dr. King, not Malcom X." Luckily for the gay community, in my view, that didn't entirely happen. I was working that night and most people I interviewed were angry, angry, angry, not just offended or unsettled by the LDS Church's role in Prop. 8. I think that if the anger amongst the people were not demonstrated on stage by the chosen few asked to speak for the community, that many in the crowd would have felt unrepresented and disenfranchised. Remember that the gay rights movement globally started with the Stonewall Riots, a few very angry nights in New York's Greenwich Village in 1969.

So, I think social movements demanding change need their bridge builders and their flamers. The flamers may make some people uncomfortable (even some people within the same community), but it's like annoying advertisements on TV, you don't have to "like" it for it to "work." I think the main role angry radicals play is to make the calmer voices seem more reasonable and, well, "normal."

But there's a limit, I suppose, where the anger or radicalism oversteps a boundary and becomes counter-productive. Do you think that's what we saw in the last two weeks? Or, especially given the that there were 13 publicized queer-related youth suicides since September, was the level of anger that we saw and read online both inevitable, appropriate and/or productive?

Related: Media reports "Hundreds" or "Thousands" of protesters


From: Brandon Burt
Sent: Tuesday, October 15, 2010 1:48 AM
To: Jesse Fruhwirth
Subject: Re: Great post!

Oh, I think there’s no question that the recent protests were justified. It’s one thing for a religious leader to express his/her beliefs, however unpopular they may be; it’s another for a powerful church organization to use the rule of law to force those beliefs on the rest of us.

Given the seriousness of the issues facing the gay community today, I wouldn’t even characterize the protests as particularly radical. Nobody was throwing bricks; there were no SWAT units deployed. People simply wore dark colors and lay down on the sidewalk. Then they went home. It was simple, peaceful and, judging from the response, quite effective.

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Still, the Prop. 8 protests were entirely different. Whereas President Packer merely reiterated an anti-gay viewpoint that we all know is still fairly common among those of his generation, Prop. 8 actively and legally revoked the existing marriage rights of gay and lesbian Californians. The Packer talk was hurtful, and it contributed to the hostile atmosphere that is particularly unhealthy for vulnerable queer youth. But Prop. 8 was materially and directly harmful to thousands of gay and lesbian families. If Troy Williams reacted with anger at that demonstration, it wasn’t without cause. He’s not a hot-headed firebrand--we were all shocked, stunned and rightfully angry.

There were some placards at the Prop. 8 protest that made me cringe, and I wish vandals hadn’t tagged the Farmington chapel. Similarly, I wish sociopaths wouldn’t use religious dogma to justify anti-gay violence or sadistic behavior that drives gay kids to suicide. Thankfully, most people are neither vandals nor sociopaths, and so the world keeps on turning.

In my naive, idealistic worldview, I always think that all it will take is for people to see that gays are human, and we want the same things as everybody else: love, success, spiritual fulfillment and the freedom to live our lives as we see fit. If we treat others with respect, then we should be able to expect that same respect from others.

Realistically, though, there are people who will always vilify us to suit their own aims. Those who are writing angry letters were never allies, and it’s unlikely that any civil protest -- much less a ponderous jeremiad from the likes of me -- would ever change their hearts.

I think the value of protests is not that they instantly change minds--but that they raise consciousness. There are many people who heard Packer’s talk and may never have given it a second thought. But now they’ll remember his words caused thousands to mobilize--and, in the weeks to come, they’ll be thinking about who those thousands really are, and wondering what they wanted.

Related Cover Story: Something's Happening Here: Gay Activism in Utah

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