Season of Giving: LGBT Utahns reach out, give back
At first glance, it seemed like a breakthrough for gay equality in Utah. After years of battling, here was Elaine Ball, a LGBT activist, in the West Jordan home of then-Republican Sen. Chris Buttars.
It was 2009. Ball and three other campaigners took fresh pumpkin bread to Buttars and chatted with him about proposed bills to provide legal protections to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) Utahns.
Buttars had been shown in the documentary "8: The Mormon Proposition," where he called gay people the greatest threat to America. The film, about California's Proposition 8 to revoke marriage for gay couples, was an official selection at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival.
Buttars could not be reached for comment for this article, but at the time of the group's visit, he said, "That was a good, sincere group of people."
The meeting went so well that the group realized they were on to something: What if members of the LGBT community did more to introduce themselves to folks like Buttars and his neighbors, in some of the state's most conservative areas?
Thus was born the Bread and Buttars Committee. It's a grass-roots, service-oriented group that aims to reach those who may have a one-sided view of gay people, or whose only interaction with them has been negative. Ball has continued with the loosely organized group, which uses the Facebook page Breadandbuttars as its chief source of communication.
Last Saturday, the group helped feed the homeless during a Thanksgiving dinner at St. Paul's Episcopal Church. Before that, members had gone into neighborhoods, helping to shovel snow or rake leaves.
'We're a human community' • Ball decided to become an activist about four years ago, when The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints backed the passage of Prop 8. The issue continues to wind its way up the court system, perhaps in coming weeks before the Supreme Court.
After the meeting with Buttars, "I just gathered everyone I know just to do service projects, doing good things and showing our faces," Ball said. "Three people came out that first time. Then we started the Facebook group. Twenty people showed during the next big snow and did the sidewalks. We gave them a pamphlet about Equality Utah."
With her short hair and a round, youthful face, Ball has a soft-spoken voice that comes across as cool and calm. She grew up in Murray, where she went to high school and then graduated from the University of Utah.
"I want to galvanize the LGBT community," Ball said. "On weekends you'll find us at bars instead of homeless shelters. I want to work against the insularity. We're a human community. I care about the homeless, elderly, the youth, and teaching reading, and it all includes the LGBT community."
Putting anger to good use • Ball, who teaches private French lessons, works at a nonprofit and officiates ceremonies as a certified humanist minister, said one of the group's ultimate goals is to persuade state lawmakers to pass what's been called the Common Ground Initiative, proposed by Equality Utah, the state's largest LGBT-rights group.
In 2009, the Legislature dealt a blow to Common Ground, which would have provided statewide legal protections for gay and transgender Utahns. It did not pass even though it had the backing of popular Republican Gov. Jon Huntsman, positive signals from the LDS Church and, on most issues, the support of public opinion, according to a Salt Lake Tribune poll.
Ball said she has a personal interest in the issue because her partner, who works for the state, has not come out in her workplace for fear of retribution.
There can be no advance in rights until gay people are allowed to protest publicly without fear of losing their jobs or being evicted, she said. Progress has been made, but it's been more of an inch-by-inch endeavor Salt Lake City, Salt Lake County, Park City, Moab and a number of other local governments have adopted employment and housing protections for gay and transgender residents.
One of Ball's favorite quotes is from the Indian political and spiritual leader Mahatma Gandhi: "I have learnt through bitter experience the one supreme lesson to conserve my anger, and as heat conserved is transmuted into energy, even so our anger controlled can be transmuted into a power which can move the world."
"People see us [gay people] as angry and not loving or of service," Ball said. "When we put that anger to good use, then things will change."
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How to help
O For a roundup of what cities, schools and other community groups are doing to spread holiday cheer, see our online listing at http://bit.ly/Sj7Gc7
To volunteer with the Bread and Buttars Committee, look for the Facebook page Breadandbuttars.
Equality Utah's Common Ground Initiative
• Fair housing and employment: It is legal in some places in Utah for people to be fired from their jobs or evicted from their homes because they're gay.
• Expanding health care: Most LGBT Utahns can not insure their family. Equality Utah is working with cities, counties and other large employers to provide adult designee benefits.
• Inheritance: Equality Utah wants to help grieving families of LGBT Utahns by removing barriers to inheritance and insurance after a loved one dies due to negligence or malpractice of another.
• Relationship recognition: Apart from marriage, Equality Utah says communities can do more to help committed couples in Utah care for each other.
Source: Equality Utah