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BYU announces Office of Belonging; LDS Elder attacks LGBTQ+ people

“To use such antagonistic and warlike language in reference to LGBTQ+ people is indefensible. All students should feel safe.”

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Pride Flag at BYU (Photo Courtesy of Affirmation LGBTQ Mormons Families & Friends)

PROVO, Ut. – Brigham Young University President Kevin J Worthen announced earlier this week in the annual university conference for faculty and staff, the formation of a new Office of Belonging at the university to be led by a vice-president level official. The office’s creation follows a report from BYU’s Committee on Race, Equity and Belonging that was finished in February.

The new office will focus on helping campus members achieve the community of belonging outlined in a newly created statement on belonging. The office will focus primarily on coordinating and enhancing belonging services and efforts on campus.

Worthen emphasized that the Office of Belonging will not only be core to BYU’s efforts to root out racism, but also to combat “prejudice of any kind, including that based on race, ethnicity, nationality, tribe, gender, age, disability, socioeconomic status, religious belief and sexual orientation.”

Notably absent from Worthen’s statement was any mention of Gender identity.

Also in attendance at the conference delivering remarks was Latter Day Saints Church, (LDS) Apostle Jeff Roy Holland, who attacked the premise of extending the idea of ‘belonging’ to the LGBTQ community at large.

The 80-year-old  member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which is the second-highest presiding body in the government of the LDS Church, had served as the ninth president of the university.

“We must have the will to stand alone, to be different, if necessary. Being a university second to none in its role primarily as an undergraduate teaching institution that is unequivocally true to the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. If at a future time, that mission means forgoing some professional affiliations and certifications, then so be it,” Holland said. University faculty and staff should take up their intellectual “muskets” to defend the Mormon Church, especially “the doctrine of the family and…marriage as the union of a man and a woman.”

Holland also launched into a denouncement of university alumni Matt Easton, his class year’s valedictorian who had come out as gay during his commencement address to his classmates. Easton in an interview with The Salt Lake Tribune noted that he was proud of what he did.

“I wasn’t trying to grandstand or ‘commandeer’ the event. I drew on my personal experiences because they shaped my time at BYU — authenticity is not the same as ‘agenda-pushing,’” Easton said.

Paul Southwick, the Director of the Portland, Oregon Religious Exemption Accountability Project, (REAP) told the Blade in an emailed statement, “To use such antagonistic and warlike language in reference to LGBTQ+ ideology is indefensible, particularly when so many LGBTQ+ students attend BYU. Quoting Mr. Holland’s own language, it is ‘more divisive than unifying, at a time we want to show love for all of God’s children.’ 

“Every student should be have the freedom to be honest and open about who they are, without being subjected to dangerous rhetoric that puts them in harm’s way. All students should feel safe in their campus environments,” Southwick added.

“Being LGBTQ+ is not a ‘challenge’ and Holland’s statement and overall speech demonstrates the “unkindness” and “crushing cruel[ty]” that he claims to condemn.  We stand united against this speech and the message of exclusion that it sends to our LGBTQ+ youth at an extremely vulnerable time in their lives. We invite Mr. Holland, BYU, the LDS church, and all other religiously affiliated universities to join us in embracing these young people. These are your children and they deserve our unconditional love and acceptance.”

Commentators on multiple social media platforms were quick to rail against Holland’s remarks. One person on Twitter pointing out the direct line being drawn between the church Elder’s homophobia and the recent murder of a married lesbian couple in Grant County, Utah.

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Utah

Salt Lake City Council now has LGBTQ majority

“Representation matters. People need to see people who look like them and have similar values representing them”

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The Salt Lake City Council come 2022: Top row, from left: Ana Valdemoros; Amy Fowler; and Alejandro Puy. Center: Darin Mano. Bottom row, from left: Chris Wharton; Dan Dugan; and Victoria Petro-Eschler. (Photo via Salt Lake Tribune Politics Twitter)

SALT LAKE CITY – Four LGBTQ Salt Lake City Council candidates won their elections this past Tuesday night – two incumbents and two non-incumbents – and now four of the council’s seven seats will be held by out LGBTQ members.

“It is different to have a government that makes decisions to value diversity and to have a government that is diverse itself,” council member Darin Mano told The Salt Lake Tribune. Mano, who won a full term in this week’s election, is Japanese American and an openly gay man.

The Salt Lake Tribune noted; “incoming Salt Lake City Council is historic — in multiple ways. For the first time, most of the members — four of the seven — are racial and ethnic minorities. And for the first time, a majority — again four — are openly LGBTQ.”

Mano became the first Asian American out LGBTQ person elected to the council and Alejandro Puy became the first out LGBTQ Latinx person. They will join Councilmembers Amy Fowler and Chris Wharton, who both won reelection. Currently, just six out LGBTQ people serve in elected office anywhere in Utah.

“LGBTQ people are severely underrepresented in governments across Utah, so holding a majority of seats on the Salt Lake City Council is a milestone moment for the city and the state. Salt Lake City is now one of just a handful of city councils in the entire country with an LGBTQ majority and the lived experiences of the LGBTQ members will ensure more inclusive policymaking,” said Mayor Annise Parker, President & CEO of LGBTQ Victory Fund.

“While the LGBTQ members will fight tirelessly to advance equality, we know they are primarily focused on the everyday issues that will improve the lives of their constituents.”

The only member of the incoming council who is not either a minority or LGBTQ is Dan Dugan, a retired engineer and Navy officer, who represents east-side neighborhoods the Tribune reported.

“It is historic and exciting,” said Amy Fowler, the council chair. “I believe this new council is really a more accurate representation of Salt Lake City.”

Fowler, who won reelection, told the Tribune; “Representation matters. People need to see people who look like them and have similar values representing them. And I think this is really something that can be such a good thing for the west side in particular.”

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Utah

Deal with LDS church promoted model for LGBTQ rights/religious liberties

The agreement led to an LGBTQ civil rights law in the state, which has Republican control of the state legislature and the governor’s mansion

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Salt Lake City Utah Mayor Erin Mendenhall raises Pride Flag, June 2021 (Blade file photo)

SALT LAKE CITY – A new video from the premier LGBTQ group in Utah, challenging the idea LGBTQ rights must be at odds with religious liberty, promotes an agreement reached in the state as a potential model to achieve a long sought-after update to civil rights law at the federal level.

The video, published Friday by Equality Utah, focuses on a 2015 agreement in Utah between the supporters of LGBTQ rights and the Mormon Church to enact a compromise acceptable to both sides. The agreement by those two sides led to an LGBTQ civil rights law in the state, which has Republican control of the state legislature and the governor’s mansion.

Troy Williams, executive director of Equality Utah, says in the video dialogue is key to achieving meaningful success, whether its among the people of Utah, a state legislature or lawmakers in Congress.

“When you are working with LGBT rights in a state like Utah, and you want to advance legal equality, you can’t do it without working with Republicans, with conservative, with people of faith,” Williams says

Williams, speaking with the Washington Blade over a Zoom call, said the main audience for the video is people on “the center right and the center left” willing to listen to other side when it comes to LGBTQ rights and religious liberty.

“People that have the courage to reach out to each other, and sit down across from each other and say, ‘Hey look, let’s hammer this out,” Williams said. “That’s who my audience is.”

Not only did Utah enact non-discrimination protections for LGBTQ people, but the state under a Republican governor administratively banned widely discredited conversion therapy for youth. When lawmakers proposed legislation that would ban transgender youth from competing in school sports, the proposal was scuttled when Gov. Spencer Cox (whom Williams called a “super Mormon”) said he’d veto it after it came to his desk.

Marina Gomberg, a former board for Equality Utah, is another voice in the video seeking dispel the narrative religious liberty and LGBTQ rights are in conflict.

“in order to protect LGBTQ people, we don have to deny religious liberty, and in order to provide protections for religious liberties, we don’t have to deny LGBTQ people,” Gomberg says. “The idea that we do is a fallacy that Utah has dismantled.”

In July, new polling demonstrated the surprisingly the Utah, despite being a conservative state, has the second highest percentage of state population in support for non-discrimination protections for LGBTQ people. The data Public Religion Research Institute from 77 percent of Utah residents support LGBTQ people, which is just behind New Hampshire at 81 percent.

Tyler Deaton, senior adviser for the pro-LGBTQ American Unity Fund, said the Utah agreement demonstrates the possibility of reaching an agreement at the federal level once “second order” issues are put into perspective.

“The first order question has to be how are we winning the culture,” Deaton said. “Do people even want to pass the bill? And if they do, you then figure out the details.”

The American Unity Fund has helped promote as a path forward for LGBTQ non-discrimination at the federal level the Fairness for For All Act, legislation seeking to reach a middle ground on LGBTQ rights and religious freedom. Polling earlier this year found 57 percent of the American public back a bipartisan solution in Congress to advance LGBTQ civil rights.

Supporters of the Equality Act, the more established vehicle for LGBTQ rights before Congress, say the Fairness for For All Act would give too many carve-out for LGBTQ rights in the name of religious freedom. The Equality Act, however, is all but dead in Congress and has shown no movement in the U.S. Senate.

Skeptics of the Utah law would point out the law doesn’t address public accommodations, one of the more challenging aspects in the fight for LGBTQ rights and one or remaining gaps in civil rights protections for LGBTQ people in the aftermath of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision last year in Bostock v. Clayton County. As a result, it’s perfectly legal in Utah for a business owner to discriminate against LGBTQ coming as patrons.

Williams, however, shrugged off the idea the lack of public accommodations protections in Utah make the agreement in the state makes it any less of a model, making the case the spirit behind the deal is what matters.

“I think copying and pasting Utah’s law doesn’t work for lots of reasons,” Wililams said. “What’s most important is a model of collaboration because when you are sitting around the table with each other — Democrats and Republicans, LGBTQ people and people of faith — that’s when the transformation happens. That is when the mutual respect is really forged.”

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Utah

LGBTQ+ Non-profit will build 8 homes for LGBTQ youth in Western states

Encircle is a non-profit organization with the mission to bring the family and community together to enable LGBTQ+ youth to thrive

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LGBTQ Youth, Utah Governor Spencer Cox, Apple CEO Tim Cook, Dwayne Wade & other donors (Photo: Tim Cook Twitter)

SALT LAKE CITY – A Utah-based non-profit announced Wednesday that the organization has raised more than $8 million dollars to build eight new homes in four Western states to provide services for LGBTQ youth.

Encircle, which provides mental health services for LGBTQ youth, will build the new homes with locations in Arizona, Idaho, Nevada and Utah. The new homes are dedicated for providing safe spaces, resources and preventing teen suicide. The organization currently has locations in Salt Lake City, Provo and St. George, Utah, and recently construction has begun on locations in Heber, Logan and Ogden, as well as in Las Vegas, Nevada.

The fundraising efforts had kicked off this past February with donations from NBA Basketball’s Utah Jazz team owners Ryan and Ashley Smith and Apple CEO Tim Cook, the first openly gay CEO of a Fortune 500 firm. The lead singer of Imagine Dragons Dan Reynolds and his wife, recording artist Aja Volkman, and retired NBA superstar and Jazz part-owner Dwayne Wade, whose 14-year-old daughter Zaya is Trans, all partnered together to give a total of $4 million.

In a press conference Wednesday, “Encircle’s mission is very personal to me because I see myself in so many of these young people,” Apple CEO Cook told reporters. “It’s not easy when you’re made to feel different or less than because of who you are or who you love. It’s a feeling that so many LGBTQ people know far too well.”

Encircle executives and the group of celebrities were joined by Utah Republican Governor Spencer Cox who praised Encircle’s efforts.

“What Encircle has done is provided that piece of acceptance, even if — especially if — there is no acceptance anywhere else,” the governor said. “There is a place where they can go where they can feel loved.”

Wade, reflecting on being the parent of a Trans child, “I stand here as a proud parent of a beautiful daughter that’s a part of the LGBT-plus community,” he said. “I don’t have all the answers. I don’t know everything, but I’m willing to listen.”

Encircle is a non-profit organization with the mission to bring the family and community together to enable LGBTQ+ youth to thrive.

On its website the non-profit lists its current support services including its new café which is open “Monday through Friday between 3-8 PM folks ages 12-25 are welcome to just drop-in, hang out and enjoy our safe space. Friendship Circles, its weekly groups [which] allow you to tell your story and connect with peers in a safer space facilitated by our community, and LGBTQ affirming therapy.”

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