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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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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