It took Jacob Whipple just 36 hours to assemble a thousands-strong protest on the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ headquarters to protest the church’s involvement in Proposition 8.
It took Elaine Ball just a little bit longer to put together a second action—a demonstration against the controversial amendment banning gay marriage in California’s constitution.
An estimated 1,000-2,000 demonstrators assembled at the City Council Building on the crisp morning of Nov. 15 carrying colorful signs and flags U.S., Gay Pride and a mixture of the two.
The two hour demonstration opened with a blessing by Gene Thunderhawk of the Lakota Native American tribe. Organizer Elaine Ball then stepped onto the building’s eastern staircase to welcome the demonstrators. Stating that the community itself, and not any individual, was responsible for making the event happen, Ball urged those present to thank the person standing next to them.
“You guys are the change that Utah can now believe in,” Ball said, citing one of President-elect Obama’s campaign slogans.
Roger Carrier, a self-described 62-year-old straight married man, spoke first. Holding a sign aloft that read: “Straight male married 40 years says gay marriage is OK. Don’t tread on me! Gay rights are my rights!” Carrier criticized the LDS church for allying itself with churches who dislike Mormonism in its support of Proposition 8.
“Unlike the Mormon’s allies in California, most gays believe that the LDS people are Christians,” he said. “The gay community wants to make friends. Mormons have far more in common with the average gay person than with the Bible-thumper on the religious right who is trashing their theology every hour and every minute on the internet. … The average gay person is only complaining about the lack of access to the courthouse, not your ward house.”
Elan Bartholomew, the 17-year-old son of a lesbian couple, spoke next, recounting how he had attended several protests to fight for “the possibility of my family being legally one.” He counseled the crowd not to give up hope in achieving full gay civil equality.
“Though it may not happen right now, change is coming,” he said to applause.
Eric Ethington, the bisexual author of the widely circulating letter titled “Dear Utah” told the crowd that Proposition 8 passed because “the nation went towards complacency.” He added, however, that its passage had galvanized gays and straight allies to action.
“With its passage it feels like a sleeping giant has been awakened and new voices are being heard everywhere,” he said. “I don’t care if one amendment or twenty were passed. They will be overturned. The fight is never over until we are equal!”
Transgender activist Dominique Storni echoed Ethington’s sleeping giant remark in her historically charged speech, in which she called the level of gay organization in the days after the election “a civil rights movement equal to that of the 60s.”
Storni drew parallels between governmental persecution of gays and lesbians in 2008 and other past wrongs, including the illegality of interracial marriage the U.S. government’s persecution of 19th Century Mormons for practicing polygamy.
She also criticized the LDS church for claiming that gay activists have been “persecuting” Mormons in the wake of Proposition 8’s passage.
“We are the playground sissies singled out and beaten up by the biggest bully in school, and we are so tired of being beaten up that we finally found the courage—or the desperation—to stand up,” she said to loud applause.
The event’s last speaker was Jeff Key, a playwright and former U.S. Marine who was discharged after publicly coming out. Previously seen waving a large U.S. flag whenever the crowd cheered, Key said that he would not “surrender that flag or my relationship to God because it’s inconvenient to” opponents of gays and lesbians.
He also encouraged demonstrators not to engage opponents of gay marriage with hatred and anger, but to realize these opponents “are doing as much for marriage equality as we are.”
As the thousands of demonstrators began their march around the Salt Lake City Public Library, Key led them in the protest song “We Shall Overcome.” As the marchers made their way around the block encompassing the library, The Leonardo Foundation Building and the City Council building, they chanted slogans such as “Church and state! Separate!” and “Yes we can!”
As in the Nov. 7 Temple Square protest, the marchers were met by a handful of counter-protesters. One group chanted “The people voted, shame on you!” from a flatbed truck festooned with signs denouncing gay marriage and calling Proposition 8 opponents “sore losers.” Another group carried signs condemning gays to hell for their sinful behavior. Despite the exchange of some angry words Lt. Lamar Ewell of the Salt Lake City Police said that both sides kept things peaceful.
“This is a volatile topic for both sides and emotions run a little high,” he said. “On the whole I think everyone did an outstanding job of getting the message out.”
While the demonstration dispersed at 2:00 p.m., demonstrators assembled again at the Utah Capitol Building for a candle light vigil at 6:00 p.m. Here they spelled out “Equality” on the capitol’s lawn using 10,000 candles.
Musicians Bronwyn Beecher of Celtic rock group The Salty Frogs and pianist Misty Rivers also performed at the demonstration’s afternoon portion.