Salt Lake City
Forget everything you think you know about Utah. Yes, it’s the reddest state in the union and the headquarters of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS). For the past twenty-five years, Republicans have had a virtual lock on statewide offices. Utah hasn’t voted for a Democrat for president since 1964, and last year the state chose John McCain over Barack Obama by almost a 2-to-1 margin.
But here in Salt Lake City, it’s a different story. The city and surrounding counties are a lovely blue. The current and previous mayors–Ralph Becker and Rocky Anderson–are well-known progressive Democrats with excellent records on the environment, gay and civil rights, disability access and other municipal issues, and Salt Lake County, home to four of the five most populous cities in the state, went for Obama in 2008.
Then there’s Salt Lake City’s queer community, whose smart, creative and coalition-building strategies could provide a model for gay activists across the country.
That last claim requires a bit of explanation. Last fall I lived in Salt Lake City. As a leftist and New York City dyke, I had expected to find a conservative city and a quietly assimilationist gay community. Instead, I was repeatedly blown away by the progressive politics and outright queerness of the capital city, which is about 40 percent Mormon.
I was in Salt Lake City in November when the passage of California’s Proposition 8 generated national outrage against the Mormon Church for its role in sending money and volunteers to help antigay forces take away the right of California’s same-sex couples to marry. A few national LGBT figures, most notably gay pundit Dan Savage, called for a boycott of Utah to punish its majority Mormon population. In Salt Lake City, I joined a furious crowd, including many gay Mormons and ex-Mormons, at a November 7 protest at the LDS Temple. The scene was a jumble of mixed messages, with signs ranging from Love Makes a Family, to Separate Church and State, to Brigham Young Had 55 Wives, I Want 1! But no one I saw advocated a boycott. Most seemed to agree with KRCL-FM public radio station personality Troy Williams, referred to by some Utahns as their homegrown Harvey Milk, who challenged Savage on his hourlong program, calling for an influx of queer migrants to the state rather than a boycott. Perhaps a New Queer Pioneer movement, modeled on the sanctified Mormon pioneers of the nineteenth century, would do more to shrink the impact of LDS antigay bigotry than any boycott ever could.
Not that Utah needs new queer residents to spark political, social or cultural creativity. The city is home to a floridly queer and unusually politically unified LGBT community. Salt Lake City hosts numerous gay bars and businesses, a busy assortment of queer artists and intellectuals, a thriving drag culture and an “extreme” BD/SM school. At this year’s pride rally, after the annual dyke march on June 6, the city’s residents flocked to the downtown Federal Building to hear local drag celebrity Sister Dottie S. Dixon (Mormon mother of a gay son, as embodied by actor Charles Frost) beseech “the almightly diva S&M Goddess of her Most High,” among other deities, to “help our surgeons ta discover how to perfarm a complete brain transplant, so that Mitt Romney can live with hope fer a better future.” And “while yer at it,” Sister Dixon implored, “if you’ve got any more of them plagues of locus–please send them ta every household that voted fer Preperation 8!”