George Pyle: Gay-friendly Utah moves ahead by thinking things through

It can be hard to be a good liberal when some clumsy, out-of-town bureaucrat is breathing down your neck.

Many years ago, when my father was the city manager of a small town on the Great Plains, he was called before the state’s human rights commission to explain himself about some perceived slight to some member of some protected class.

He was none too happy about having to justify himself to these interfering busy bodies. Who had set themselves up in a meeting room of a local hotel. In the basement. In a building with no elevators.

After he struggled down a flight of stairs, pulling with him the polio-destroyed leg that, at that point, had been part of his life for maybe 50 years, he explained his belief that an awful lot of the hurtful things that people do to one another are the result of carelessness, cluelessness and sloth. Why else would this panel of worthies have scheduled this meeting in a place that was so difficult for, as he described himself, “an overweight cripple” to attend?

He got away with that.

But, good liberal that he was, he also recognized the need for the state, and the city, to have such things as an human rights commission, or equal opportunity office, or whatever, because, without one, relatively innocent people in power are likely to do a lot of needlessly hurtful things to lot of totally innocent people without power. (People with power are never totally innocent.)

The point is not to fight or confront or punish. The point is to stop and think. And feel. But mostly think.

There is reason to be happy that many people in Utah have been doing a fair amount of thinking recently.

For example.

After totally bungling a move in the Legislature to prohibit the practice of conversion therapy — a Dark Ages bit of pseudo-psychiatry that seeks to turn gay people straight — on minors, Gov. Gary Herbert gets credit for a save by referring the matter to the professionals.

It took the Utah Psychologist Licensing Board very little time at all to cough up a set of rules to prohibit licensed professions from misusing their skills, training and official recognition to try to push someone under the age of 18 from one sexual orientation or identification to another. Which was probably a relatively easy task, as the wider profession has long since labeled conversion therapy a form of dangerous quackery.

This was a good example of how doing the right thing can involve trusting the professionals to do their jobs, ignoring the winds of politics and the pull of devoted but small groups of people stuck in centuries old thought.

Not that the great unwashed masses don’t get it.

A new survey contains news that Utah stands second in the nation in the popular belief that their laws should protect LGBT humans from discrimination. Folks at the Public Religion Research Institute put Utahns’ support for nondiscrimination laws at a healthy 77%, with an insignificant 19% opposed. Only reliably liberal, and remarkably unreligious, New Hampshire is more equality-friendly, and its equally non-religious neighbor Vermont is close behind.

Why is deep red Republican Utah, with so much of its history and culture the story of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, so gay-friendly?

Because we’ve done the most thinking. Members, non-members and ex-members of the LDS Church have gone around and around on this matter for years. Most, though not all, of the discussion has been comparatively civil, as people on both sides have striven to see the humanity in the other side and sought to win them over rather than pave them under.

And to keep their political viability going in case they lose.

This effort isn’t done. There is still a lot of anti-gay grumbling going on, in the highest reaches of the church and in the Capitol.

But if we keeping thinking, we’ll get there.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Tribune staff. George Pyle.


Twitter, @debatestate