Taylor Knuth: Out of the ashes of violence, love will prevail

How our community stood up to support us after an attack on our home.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) People gather at the Utah Pride Center in Salt Lake City on Monday, Nov. 21, 2022 for a candlelight vigil for the victims of a shooting in Colorado Springs.

On the morning of November 16, my husband and I woke up to our pride flag burned - melted and charred onto the railing of our home in Ogden – set ablaze in an act of bigotry and hate as it hung from our porch.

With some elbow grease and paint, our home will be OK. And thanks to the love we have received from fellow Ogdenites, we will also be OK.

This kindness means the world, but we won’t soon forget this violent act. There is a specific and potent anguish that comes with somebody violently targeting you simply for existing - for loving. That pain has been amplified in the wake of the Club Q Shooting last weekend in Colorado Springs, which ended the lives of five and injured 25 more.

Violence, more specifically fire, has been used to terrorize the LGBTQ community for decades. On June 24, 1973, a woefully under-reported hate crime occurred at the UpStairs Lounge. This gay bar was a rare and precious space of love and was located on the second floor of a downtown building in New Orleans. An arsonist set fire to a staircase, blocking the only exit. No suspect was ever charged and the fire lead to the deaths of 32 people and injured 15 more.

The UpStairs Lounge massacre would remain the largest single act of violence against the LGBTQ community until 2016, when a gunman opened fire at Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, killing 49 people and injuring 53 more. There exists a system (yes, a system), a culture even, which accepts violence against LGBTQ people as commonplace and ordinary. We must disrupt this reality and work toward change.

To see our beloved flag reduced to a pile of ashes on the porch of our home was unsettling, violating and heartbreaking – it was in fact violence against us as gay men. We have to believe that out of these ashes, love will prevail and action-oriented leaders in our community will impact meaningful change.

In the days that have followed the burning of our flag, friends and strangers alike have reached out with kind words, love, baked goods (the Utah Way), and of course, new pride flags. Our neighbors banded together to display more than 20 flags up and down our street and so many others from across Ogden have joined in solidarity. Our family will forever remember the ways our community (in Ogden and beyond) has shown up for us.

Now, let’s talk about the ways our leaders show up for us, as well as the ways they have not.

Also on November 16, the U.S. Senate voted on the Respect for Marriage Act, a bill that essentially enshrines our rights to marriage at the federal level. Sen. Mitt Romney voted in favor while Sen. Mike Lee did not; citing his support for “traditional” marriage. In February, the Utah Legislature voted in favor of House Bill 11, a hateful bill that targeted a single trans girl and prevented her, and others who follow, from playing girl’s sports in schools. In my city, only one representative, Rosemary Lesser, voted against this senseless and violent legislation.

In Ogden, the Human Rights Commission’s Municipal Equality Index Score sits at 58 of 100. While not the lowest of the cities reviewed in Utah, it is still a failing grade and something I urged action on a year ago. Nothing was done to confront the shortcomings of our city’s efforts to protect and celebrate our LGBTQ community.

These small, seemingly mundane, and perhaps non-life-threatening acts of violence feel like a single paper cut each time they occur; from a burned flag to a state legislature that lacks compassion and empathy for a stranger, a child, in our community, and they are starting to add up. Have you ever heard of the old metaphor, “death by a thousand paper cuts”?

The recent election demonstrates that young people, like myself, want to elect leaders who value and respect us. Additionally, a recent poll found that 1 in 5 of Gen Z identifies as LGBTQ, making us one of the most powerful voting blocs in the country. Young people have rejected the rhetoric that queer people are predators and should not have access to a safe community and more importantly, a community that celebrates them and nurtures places where we can not only survive but thrive. Places like the UpStairs Lounge and Club Q which should have been remembered as places of joy and love but are now remembered as locations of unspeakable tragedy.

The violence against our LGBTQ community must end, be that the violence of a metaphorical paper cut gouged too deep with the burning of a pride flag, the deadly flames of a structural fire, or the unrestrained and unregulated bullets of an AR-15.

Join me in calling on the leaders of Utah, from the Ogden City Council and Ogden City Mayor to our state and federal representatives, to recognize the need to put into action real protections and other efforts to prevent these acts of violence against our LGBTQ community. From a burned Pride flag to the UpStairs Lounge, Pulse, Club Q, and so many more, the system of violence being inflicted on our LGBTQ community in this country must end.

Their thoughts and their prayers were never good enough.

Now, more than ever, we need action.

Taylor Knuth

Taylor Knuth, Ogden, is a third-year doctoral student at the University of Utah in the Education, Culture, & Society Department and is deputy director of the Salt Lake City Arts Council.