LGBTQ movement on the rise in Utah – Liberation News

Last month, Utah saw a surge in bigotry and violence against LGBTQ people. On August 18, a newly married lesbian couple was found murdered in southern Utah after telling loved ones about a “creepy” man who followed them; The case is being investigated as a hate crime. Five days later, three anti-LGBTQ campaigns hit the headlines.

First, a prominent Mormon church leader, Elder Jeffrey Holland, gave a speech to faculty and staff at Brigham Young University, advocating more “musket fire” in response to criticism from LGBTQ activists. Second, the Utah State School Board announced that it was against policy to ask students about their gender identity and preferred name. Eventually, Natalie Cline, an outspoken far-right member of the state school board, used social media to identify and criticize a local high school class for showing a message welcoming LGBTQ students. But as LGBTQ political organization and activism have increased in recent years, the LGBTQ community and its allies have responded with charges against Holland’s bigoted talk and advocacy of an inclusive approach to secondary education.

Mormon-owned Brigham Young University has been a central arena in the struggle for LGBTQ liberation in Utah – a struggle that has intensified in recent years. In the 1960s and 1970s, BYU’s president used spies to spot gay men on campus who were then given electroshock therapy to stay in school. The approach is more subtle now, but no less depressing, as LGBTQ Mormons cannot enjoy full fellowship and are excluded.

Mormon church leader Jeffrey Holland spoke at BYU in 2018. Photo: Ben PL from Provo, CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

In the past ten years, the once underground LGBTQ community has emerged at BYU and has begun to campaign for political and cultural change. In response to this coming-out period, the BYU administration had to downgrade the second grade status of LGBTQ students due to the fact that all students must wait to marry to have sex, but only straight students can get married. Unsurprisingly, the latter’s second-class status contributes to a culture of harassment on and off campus.

On the same day that BYU opened its new “Office of Affiliation”, Holland of the First Presidency of the Mormon Church gave a lecture complaining that BYU faculty and staff did not put their “muskets” on members of the Public raised that criticized BYU’s anti-LGBTQ policies. Kindly interpreted, Holland’s comment was just a violent metaphor, but it’s hard to imagine that this verbal violence won’t turn into physical violence – especially just days after the lesbian couple was murdered.

While not directly advocating violence against LGBTQ people, it is evident that Mormon church leaders are at best reckless with their violent rhetoric and exclusionary policies. LGBTQ oppression is a problem across the United States, and Utah is no exception. In fact, 65% of LGBTQ youth surveyed in Utah said they had been verbally harassed in school, compared with 51% nationwide; more homeless youth in Utah identify as LGBTQ compared to the national average. And there is evidence that anti-LGBTQ bigotry is related to the high suicide rates in Utah.

August 27th Protest at BYU hosted by PSL Provo and Provo Pride. Photo: Liberation News

In response to this surge in anti-LGBTQ bigotry, the Party for Socialism and Liberation and Provo Pride have teamed up to strike back and hold a protest at BYU on August 27th. The fight against LGBTQ oppression in Utah is a crucial fight, and that was reflected in the passion of the protesters. More than 50 protesters held signs calling for LGBTQ liberation and rejecting Holland’s violent rhetoric. Strangers who had never met agreed in their opposition to the repression of LGBTQ students and individuals across the state. With a few exceptions, the drivers who passed the intersection honked and shouted messages of support. Given that Provo is one of the most politically conservative cities in the country, there was a feeling in Utah that the tide was turning on the matter.

Kelli Potter, PSL Provo Organizer and Associate Professor of Philosophy at Utah Valley University, speaks to the media during the August 27 event. Photo: Liberation News

Protesters held signs with slogans linking LGBTQ struggle with workers’ struggles. Three speakers turned to the crowd. Tay Adams – the director of Provo Pride and a former BYU student – spoke of the suffering he went through trying to live as a closed gay man on a Mormon mission and as a student at BYU. Kaylee, organizer at PSL Provo, made the connections between LGBTQ liberation, the patriarchal family and capitalism. Kelli Potter, organizer at PSL Provo and associate professor of philosophy at Utah Valley University, shared her experiences as a closed trans woman at BYU and the Mormon Church, an experience that played a role in her own political evolution towards revolutionary socialism. All three speeches showed the connection between LGBTQ + and employee liberation and were very well received by the motivated group.

On the evening of August 28, LGBTQ activists held a vigil in Salt Lake City, asking those who “muskets” are aimed at LGBTQ people to “bury their weapons” instead, a reference to a Book of Mormon story in of a once violent people bury their weapons and swear not to return to violence. One of the speakers at the vigil was Matt East, who came out as gay during his BYU inaugural address in 2019.

In recent years, the Mormon Church’s bigoted policy towards LGBTQ members has come under increasing public criticism and has undoubtedly played a role in the high number of people leaving the Church. Unsurprisingly, there is a growing demand for LGBTQ equality and exemption in Utah. Utah’s LGBTQ community and its allies are growing in strength as bigoted reactionaries at the top seek desperately to contain resistance to capitalist patriarchy.

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