Utah is a curious place because its capital is home to the headquarters of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and to the nation’s seventh highest population of LGBTQ residents per capita. *boioioioing*
As a native queen bee myself, I have long pictured these two communities as a Venn diagram with two partially overlapping circles. In the middle live Latter-day Saints who are either LGBTQ or allies, LGBTQ allies of Latter-day Saints and probably all the hardcore crafters.
And there are times when those glorious circles shift like tectonic plates (too soon, northern Utah friends?) and the overlap becomes distinctly more pronounced.
One of those times was the other night, when the LGBTQ advocacy group Equality Utah hosted the state’s first-ever (the nation’s first-ever?) Equality Forum, wherein the four GOP gubernatorial candidates vied for the spotlight on, you guessed it, LGBTQ issues and inclusion. I don’t know if Republicans in liberal states are hustling for the queer vote, but it’s wildly surprising coming from red-as-a-fire-engine Utah. Especially since each of them has done something concrete to move LGBTQ protections forward in our state.
Another time we felt the ground move was five years ago this spring, actually.
We had started 2015 with the reality that the roughly 55,000 adult LGBTQ Utahns could be fired or evicted at any moment just because of who they are or who they love. And they were (and sadly others still are in 29 states across the country).
But by March of that year, international news was shining a light on Gov. Gary Herbert as he signed Utah’s new (Republican-sponsored, LDS Church-endorsed) nondiscrimination bill protecting gay and transgender Utahns in housing and employment.
By May, it was the law of the land.
It seemed like our diagram overlap went from looking like an English cucumber to an over-pumped football overnight.
As much I like that rose-colored memory, the truth is, the process of sizable and politically divergent communities finding common ground can be long and messy.
Ours was. I was chair-elect of Equality Utah’s board of directors at the time, and got to see the chaos up close.
It took time, rewrites, negotiations and political maneuvering. And that was after years of protests, rallies and a couple of arrests.
But Utah’s experience wasn’t unique. Making social progress, by and large, is a soup sandwich — it’s very sloppy.
Why? Because understanding people different from us takes time and risk. So does growing the trust that compromise requires — especially when legal teams, hurt feelings and egos are involved.
But LGBTQ people are relentlessly hopeful (read: persistent) and our Republican pals lean into the idea that theirs is the party of equality under the law. Those conditions are like fertile soil and unobstructed sun for the blooms of progress.
Achieving compromise doesn’t have to be glorious, though, for the end result to be. I remember standing shoulder-to-shoulder on the bill signing day at the capitol with one of the most diverse groups of people celebrating a pro-LGBTQ bill that I can remember. I’m pretty sure I blacked out for a second when Herbert handed the ceremonial pen to Elder L. Tom Perry of the church's Quorum of the Twelve Apostles after signing.
We had widened the circle (thanks to former Sen. Steve Urquhart for helping to orchestrate our new harmony).
And the impact of our deepened understanding and collaboration on both sides rippled beyond that day at the capitol. We felt the ease in our places of employment, over the grill at family barbecues and in our public interactions.
But as Emma Lazarus said, “Until we are all free, we are none of us free.” So, I hope Congress takes note and swift action. We’re looking at you, Sens. Mitt Romney and Mike Lee, and Reps. Rob Bishop, Chris Stewart, John Curtis and Ben McAdams, to lead out. We know you won’t leave thousands of LGBTQ families unprotected in those 29 states, and that you wouldn’t stand for having our protections end when we cross state lines. Make us proud.
Because, Utah isn’t burning (although some might say we’re flaming!) and the sky is still securely in place overhead — we’ve just created more space for us all to safely coexist.
Be like Utah.
Marina Gomberg is a communications professional and lives in Salt Lake City with her wife, Elenor Gomberg, and their son, Harvey. You can reach Marina at firstname.lastname@example.org.