Michelle Quist: Proud to see Utah embracing love in a more neighborly way

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Thousands participate in the Utah Pride Parade in Salt Lake City on Sunday June 2, 2019.

I met Allison Phillips Belnap when I was dean of admissions at Brigham Young University Law School. She was hired as the dean of career services shortly after I started. We were both in a new environment that maybe didn’t know what to do with us. Dean James Rasband gave us his trust and support, and we dug in with new ideas to reach out to students and help them succeed.

We’re both back in private practice, still trying to help those around us succeed. Allison is remarkably good at it.

June is Pride Month, meant to celebrate the LGBTQ community and their impact in our world. June was chosen to commemorate the Stonewall riots, which started June 28, 1969, when New York City police raided a gay club in Greenwich Village and six days of protests ensued.

It has been 50 years since the riots.

Last month Allison decided she wanted to send a message of love and acceptance to kids, and adults, in Heber City, where she lives. She researched, planned, raised money and coordinated the placement of rainbow flags on lampposts lining Heber’s Main Street. The flags say, “Pride in the Wasatch Back.”

On a Facebook post, Allison shared, “We fly the flag so that our kids won’t have to be shipped to other communities for school anymore. So that our entire LGBTQ+ family feels strength in numbers, courage in authenticity, and the love that accompanies acceptance and understanding. #prideinthewasatchback "

The mayor of Heber City, Kelleen Potter, posted about the flags on her Facebook Page. She wrote:

For those who have noticed the Rainbow Pride flags on Heber’s Main Street. I can’t take credit for the flags — the request was made by the visionary and generous Allison Phillips Belnap and she provided the flags as well. The request was handled and approved just like any other request to hang flags on Main Street.”

The mayor also posted a message written by Marion McClellan that included,

“We fly this beautiful rainbow flag so that one child sees it, that one teen who is sure that there is no place for them in our community or in their family or in their congregation absolutely knows they ALWAYS have a place next to us.”

Isn’t this a message we want our teens to hear?

Tuesday evening at the Heber City council meeting a few residents spoke out against the flags.

KPCW and Fox13 reported some of the comments:

“I have no problem with people’s sexual orientation. I have a real problem with it being flashed in front of my face,” and, “What about acceptance of my values as a Christian woman? Are you going to fly a flag in support of those of us who are straight?” another woman said to the council.

Allison spoke as well. She told her community, at their City Council meeting in face of comments against innocuous pride flags on Main Street, “I spent the first 40 years of my life convinced I was broken beyond recovery. Until one day I knew — absolutely knew — it would be better if I died rather than come out to my family and community. And I didn’t want anyone ever to feel that alone and desperate. I wanted folks to know they have people around them who care and who will love them.”

“If we want to love others, then we love others.”

The man who spoke after Allison gave her a huge hug and told the room he was going to speak against the flags but had changed his mind.

Those are our values – to love our neighbors as ourselves. It is the new commandment, and we often fail miserably. The absence of love isn’t hate, it’s fear.

There is no fear in love.”

Yes, I just quoted scripture. It seems apt. Pride month and Pride flags and Pride parades aren’t about hate or sex or even sexual orientation. Pride is about love. Pride is about recognizing a segment of our population that we have historically refused to love because of judgment and fear and shame.

A few years ago I sat in my kitchen eating Indian food with Troy Williams, who is now the executive director of Equality Utah. He had asked to meet after I wrote an op-ed disagreeing with another op-ed that compared efforts against gay marriage to apartheid and accused those against gay marriage of bigotry.

I remember him asking me, “What will you do if the Supreme Court overturns Amendment 3?” That was the 2004 ballot measure that banned same-sex marriage in Utah — later overturned by the federal courts.

Instead of hate or anger, Troy reached out to broaden understanding and extend love. Five years later, I’m glad to call Troy my friend.

I’m also proud to know Allison. I was proud to support her efforts in Heber. And I’m proud to see Utah embracing love in a more neighborly way.


Michelle Quist

Michelle Quist is a columnist for The Salt Lake Tribune.