Gay-rights advocates' plan for LDS conference: Service, not protests

Published March 27, 2009 6:55 pm
Volunteering » Activists opt for kinder, gentler approach than post-Prop. 8 rallies.
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Far from the post-Proposition 8 protests that ignited outside of LDS temples in November, gay-rights advocates are taking a gentler tack during next week's LDS General Conference.

Instead of pickets and chants, members and supporters of Utah's lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community plan to take up garden tools and medical-supply kits for "General Service Weekend" on April 4 and 5.

Some of the hard feelings from the LDS Church's backing of Prop 8 -- the November ballot measure that banned same-sex marriage in California -- appear to have dissipated. But LGBT activists remain motivated in their pursuit of marriage equality and other legal protections, said organizer Jacob Whipple.

"We wanted to harness that energy for productive means," he said. "We don't feel that there is a need to protest [the LDS Church] further."

Whipple launched the Salt Lake City protest that drew 3,000 people to Temple Square three days after the November election.

Salt Lake City police Sgt. Robin Snyder said no permits for protests outside of general conference have been requested -- as of Thursday -- although a permit is not required. In recent weeks, a viral e-mail spread false rumors about a massive and violent gay-rights rally planned near the conference, a semiannual event that features speeches from prominent LDS leaders.

Whipple said he knows of no plans by gay-rights supporters to demonstrate during the conference. Instead, he has arranged several service projects in Ogden and Salt Lake County, including cleanups at Dimple Dell Park and the Jordan River Parkway, gardening for the nonprofit Utah G.A.R.D.E.N.S. and social-work visits to refugee families. He expects 300 to 600 volunteers to participate.

"Service to others is always a good idea," LDS Church spokesman Scott Trotter said via e-mail in response to the LGBT event.

Eric Ethington, who plans to pitch in on service weekend, hopes that seeing gay and transgender Utahns giving back to society will increase awareness and understanding of LGBT issues.

Since November, Ethington has organized a series of service events -- including delivering pumpkin bread to gay-rights foe Sen. Chris Buttars, R-West Jordan -- through his grass-roots group Pride in Your Community.

"Quite often, people just see the rallies and the pride parade ... and maybe get a little scared of that," he said. "We are people just like anybody else. We care about our neighbors."

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General Service Weekend

What » Several service projects, held to coincide with LDS General Conference, led by advocates for Utah's lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.

When » April 4 and 5.

Where » Volunteers will meet both days at 10 a.m. in Salt Lake City at the Utah Pride Center, 361 N. 300 West, and in Ogden at the Unitarian Church, 705 23rd Street. Projects will be at several different sites.

Web information: http://www.allforoneinitiative.org

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