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Walsh: A step back for gay Utahns

Published June 21, 2009 12:00 am

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2009, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Reading the headlines, the news isn't good for gay Utahns.

Former Equality Utah Director Mike Thompson has moved to San Francisco, taking his organizing skills from Holladay to the Haight. He says it's personal, not professional.

Then, Pride Week opened with what looks like a hate crime.

Christopher Vonnegut Allen was arrested after allegedly beating his gay neighbors -- a man and a woman -- bloody in Ogden. One victim needed surgery. You may not have heard of it. Prosecutors charged Allen with only one count of burglary.

And this week, two nice Mormon ladies from Santa Cruz decided to give their unwilling church one more chance to reconcile with its gay members and the LGBT community outside the flock.

While the rest of the country moves forward -- New Hampshire, New York, Iowa, for goodness sake -- this place seems perpetually stuck.

It probably helps that Thompson missed the headlines. Still, he's optimistic.

"You can't have a defeatist attitude," he says. "You've got to press against it in order to even hope for a change."

He points to Salt Lake City's nondiscrimination ordinance and domestic partners registry, an anti-bullying law, polls that show Utahns supported the Common Ground Initiative (even if lawmakers didn't).

"Maybe they're not significant in some people's minds, but there are measurables there," he says. "People are having conversations. Change is going to come sooner or later."

Petition organizer Janeen Thompson also takes the long view. A realist, she recognizes the post-Prop 8 campaign for reconciliation she started online with Cheryl Nunn could end up in a round file. No doubt, they'll get a nice smile and ever-so-polite handshake when they drop off their petition at South Temple in November.

But so far, they've collected more than 1,000 signatures at ldsapology.org.

"I don't think we'll end up with an apology. But I think it might help to nudge them to change their stance on homosexuality," Thompson says.

She compares it to the decades-long effort to change the church's position on blacks and the priesthood.

"It's a process," she adds. "It takes people willing to advocate for change. Even though it might not come immediately, it's movement."

Back in Ogden, NAACP President Jeanetta Williams is urging prosecutors to tack on another burglary charge and log the assaults as hate crimes.

"It makes it look like there's no incidence of hate crimes here, which is not true," says Williams.

Three years after lawmakers told us they'd passed a ground-breaking hate crimes bill (mind you, without explicit protections for gays and lesbians, or Mormons, for that matter), Weber County attorneys were stuck. If Allen had been charged with a hate crime, he would face just two years in jail. It looks like prosecutors have tried to get the biggest penalty they can.

I guess that's progress.

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