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Miller says he now thinks 'Brokeback' ban was wrong

Published February 8, 2007 1:05 am

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2007, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Jazz owner Larry H. Miller has changed his views of the gay and lesbian community enough to acknowledge he was wrong to ban the movie "Brokeback Mountain" from his theaters.

Have his feelings evolved enough to accept an openly gay player on his basketball team? He doesn't know.

Wednesday, when word spread that former Jazz player John Amaechi is releasing a book in which he reveals he is gay, Miller said he probably would allow "Brokeback Mountain" to be shown if the movie was released now, calling his ban a bad decision.

"Not because I got beaten up over it, but because it was a knee-jerk reaction," he said. "You have to choose your spots to draw your lines and I didn't choose a very good one."

Miller's ban of the blockbuster movie made national news and made him the center of a national debate. He said he has developed a more open view after meeting with members of the gay and lesbian community at the University of Utah in April.

"It was good for me in a couple of ways," he said. "I learned a lot about them with some open and honest dialogue. It didn't change my way of thinking or theirs, but we all realized after talking with each other we have a better understanding of each other.

"I'm still outspoken on issues, but I know I have to look at people's feelings and lives. I'd like to say I'm more understanding now. To say I'm tolerant would be less accurate, but I am more understanding."

Miller's softened views were welcomed by some in the gay community.

"Unless you didn't have a heart, I don't know how you can go through that experience and not have a change of heart," said Valerie Larabee, executive director of the Utah Pride Center. "We all know Larry Miller has a huge heart. Just look at what he has done for this state and his philanthropy. He is showing some growth."

Kim Hall, acting director of the University of Utah's Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Resource Center, said she hopes Miller's new open-mindedness will make him a "bellwether for LDS culture."

Miller, Hall said, "was willing to participate in the educational conversation, and you have to respect him for that."

The meeting changed minds on the other side of the issue, too. Bonnie Owens, co-president of the University of Utah Lesbian and Gay Student Union, was one of several gay students who met with Miller in April to discuss his views. She says everyone expected a tense conversation, but Miller defused it by listening attentively to students' stories about feeling ostracized because of their sexuality.

"He was so much more receptive than we thought he'd be," Owens said. "He really did want to find out why people were upset about that."

Owens hopes other prominent Utah leaders will follow Miller's example: "If he can come out and say, 'I was wrong to discriminate against a group of people,' then who knows who's next? Maybe Orrin Hatch?"

Miller admitted he was unsure how he'd handle the situation if a current Jazz player came out as gay.

"I have to think from the standpoint that everyone has the same rights as anybody else has, I believe that," he said. "Here, in this market, we do have a responsibility to uphold certain standards, although I know these guys aren't angels. I'd have to consider it and think about it some more. I don't know if I can answer that right now."

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* Tribune reporter CHRISTY KARRAS contributed to this story