2008 in Review

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On his third day in office, Salt Lake City’s new mayor Ralph Becker announces plans to create a domestic partner registry for unmarried couples in Salt Lake City who can prove that they have lived together for at least a year and are financially interdependent. Designed specifically prove interdependency to private employers who offer domestic partner benefits, and to ensure that couples have hospital visitation rights and equal access to city facilities, the registry is easily the most controversial move in Becker’s first 100 days as mayor. The announcement touches off a months-long war over the registry on Capitol Hill.

Transgender woman Ariana Losco is fired from her job at Tooele retirement home Rocky Mountain Care after talking to a reporter from the Associated Press about being harassed on the job after co-workers discovered that she had undergone sexual reassignment surgery 13 years ago.  Losco goes public with her story and becomes an advocate for transgender equality, testifying before the Utah legislature on a bill by Salt Lake City Democrat Rep. Christine Johnson to protect people from arbitrary firing on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. Her former employer declines to comment on the issue.

Along with Johnson’s bill, lawmakers introduce a number of other pro-gay bills during the 2008 general legislative session. They include a bill by Rep. Phil Riesen, D-Salt Lake City, asking for more state funding to combat rising chlamydia and gonorrhea rates; a bill by openly gay Sen. Scott McCoy, D-Salt Lake City, to allow individuals to designate a family member other than a spouse or children to sue in cases of wrongful death; a bill by Rep. Chavez-Houck, D-Salt Lake City, that would allow gay couples to adopt; and a bill by Rep. Lori Fowlke, R-Provo, that would punish parents (or those who coerce parents) into abandoning their children.

Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints President Gordon B. Hinckley dies at the age of 97.

The American Psychology Association announces that female bisexuality is a distinctive sexual orientation, not a phase in coming out as lesbian. In their announcement, the organization cites a 10-year study by University of Utah psychologist and researcher Lisa Diamond of the sexual behavior and attractions of 79 women identifying as lesbian, bisexual or “unlabeled.”


Thomas S. Monson succeeds Hinckley as the 16th president of the LDS Church.

The Utah Pride Center holds its third annual WinterPride, 10 days of parties, dances and other festivities from Feb. 8 – 17.

Anti-gay Sen. Chris Buttars, R-West Jordan, makes good on his promise to squash Becker’s registry with SB 267, Local Government Authority Amendments. The bill seeks to keep county and municipal legislative bodies from creating any registry “to define, identify, or recognize a domestic partnership, civil union, or other domestic relationship other than marriage for any purpose,” and would immediately invalidate any such registry, ordinance or action. Many fear that the bill, if passed, will do away with Salt Lake City’s adult designee program, which allows city employees to cover adults who aren’t their spouses (such as siblings, unmarried partners or elderly parents) on their health insurance plans.

A few days later, Buttars makes national headlines when on the Senate floor he says of a bill he does not like, “this baby is black … this is a dark, ugly thing.” When another senator calls the comment a breech of ethics, Buttars apologizes, saying he did not intend to be racist. Several black Utahns, however, are angered by the comment, including Rev. France Davis of Salt Lake’s Calvary Baptist Church and Utah’s chapter of the National Association for Advancement of Colored People. Local NAACP President Jeanetta Williams calls on Buttars to resign.

A bill by Rep. David Litvak, D-Salt Lake City, that would allow Utahns to get protective orders against people they are dating is narrowly defeated in the House. The bill is one of several sponsored by Equality Utah because it would have offered gay people a measure of protection against domestic abuse. Currently, Utah law only allows protective orders to be issued against cohabitating partners.


Former University of Utah Physics Department accountant Heidi Borjesson brings suit against the school, alleging that she was wrongfully and involuntarily terminated from her job in 2005 because her supervisor disapproved of her being bisexual and taking personal preference days to care for sick pets.

Local gay rights group Equality Utah offers its delegate training workshop, to teach gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Utahns and their allies how to become the political representatives who elect candidates at precinct caucuses.

The legislative session closes with a number of losses to Utah’s gay and transgender people. Of Equality Utah’s several bills, Johnson’s employment nondiscrimination bill and Chavez-Houck’s gay adoption bill never make it to the floor for debate. McCoy’s Wrongful Death Amendments bill is returned to the Senate Rules Committee for revisions. However, Fowlke’s child abandonment bill, Reisen’s STD bill and a bill by Rep. Carol Spackman-Moss, D-Salt Lake City, setting minimum, statewide standards to prevent bullying and hazing in public and charter schools pass — though some in significantly revised forms.

Buttars’ bill that sought to kill Salt Lake City’s domestic partner registry is returned to the Senate Rules Committee. A bill by Sen. Greg Bell, R-Fruit Heights, replaces it. The revised bill allows the registry to stand, but mandates that its name be changed so as not to conflict with Utah’s ban on gay marriage; Becker replaces “domestic partner” with “mutual commitments.”

The University of Utah holds “Act Out: Ally Week at the U,” five days of discussions, workshops, socials and film screenings aimed at educating straight students, faculty, school staff and members of the public about the gay and transgender community and how to advocate for gay rights.


The University of Utah closes Ally Week with an observance of the Day of Silence, where students do not speak to protest the silencing of gay and transgender people through violence and discrimination. The Provo School District bans the day, stating that it might “disrupt” classes.

President Monson instructs Fred M. Riley, commissioner of LDS Family Services, and Riley’s predecessor to meet with members of Affirmation, a support group for gay current and former Mormons, to discuss what Affirmation calls the church’s poor treatment of its gay and transgender members.

The Libertarian Party narrowly nominates Dell “Superdell” Schanze, former owner of Totally Awesome Computers, as its gubernatorial candidate. Schanze, whose purposely annoying TV ads made him a household name in the 1990s, reportedly recorded an unaired radio commercial in 2005 in which he used anti-gay insults.

The Salt Lake County Council shoots down Democratic councilwoman Jenny Wilson’s proposal to extend healthcare benefits to the financially dependent domestic partners, live-in family and friends of county employees. Republican councilmembers replace it with a proposal that would grant unmarried financial dependents access to insurance if they pay for the plan themselves.


Buttars wins the Republican Party’s nomination to seek re-election in November by a single delegate vote. Meanwhile, anti-gay former Rep. LaVar Christensen wins enough delegate votes to run for office again.

The interim Business and Labor Committee (consisting of members of both legislative houses) hears Johnson’s employment nondiscrimination bill in a two-hour session. A number of gay and transgender people who have experienced job discrimination testify, as do opponents of the bill.
The HIV/AIDS Task Force of Washington County , Southern Utah Pride at Zion and resort Kayenta hold an AIDS Walk and Dance to raise money for the Task Force. The event raises over $7,500 for the organization.

The California Supreme Court overturns a state ban on gay marriage. The decision will have serious repercussions for Utahns.

In a much-criticized move, Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff authors a brief on behalf of AGs from 10 states asking the California justices to defer on their decision to legalize gay marriage in the state. The AGs cite “genuine concerns” over gay and lesbian couples tying up courts in their home states by marrying in California and then suing for their marriages to be recognized upon coming home.


The Mormon Church issues a letter to all California LDS churches to be read during services. The letter exhorts Mormons to donate money and volunteer time in support of a proposed constitutional amendment that would ban gay marriage in the state. The amendment will later be known as Proposition 8.

The Utah AIDS Foundation turns down an $87,000 grant from the Centers for Disease Control that was to be used for advertising its services. UAF executive director Stan Penfold cited the state health department’s refusal to approve ads it deemed sexually suggested and ads targeting HIV prevention rather than testing as the reason UAF refused the grant.

The 2008 Utah Pride Festival brings in a record number of exhibitors, sponsors, parade participants and attendees. Overall, the Utah Pride Center estimates that more than 20,000 people attended the three day festival on Sunday alone.

Members of the Queer Utah Aquatic Club place 70 times in more than 15 events at the 2008 International Gay and Lesbian Aquatics championship in Washington, DC.

Club Try-Angles’ team of 13 bikers raises nearly $12,000 for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society during the annual Harmons MS Best Dam Bike Tour. The team places 9th on the list of the highest non-corporate fundraising teams in this year’s ride.


David “DJ” Bell is accused of abducting two children from his neighbor’s house during the early morning hours of a Fourth of July party. The mother of one child finds the children shortly after in Bell’s house, crying but unharmed. After the children are returned home, members of the family next door severely beat Bell and his partner Dan Fair before police arrive. Members of the gay community are outraged and call the beatings a hate crime. No charges are brought at the time against the family.

The Utah Pride Center holds its fourth annual Breast Dialogues, an evening of monologues and stories written by local women on all of the issues surrounding breasts in U.S. culture. The evening is part of the Center’s educational outreach on the issue of breast cancer.

Chad Hardy, creator of the tongue-in-cheek beefcake calendar Men on a Mission which features shirtless Mormon missionaries, is excommunicated from the LDS Church.

Café Marmalade at the Utah Pride Center celebrates its first anniversary.


The Sunstone Education Foundation holds its annual Sunstone Symposium, for Mormons and those interested in Mormon history and doctrine to participate in the “free and frank exploration of gospel truths.” A number of panels are devoted to homosexuality, and one panel criticizes the church’s increasing involvement in the Proposition 8 campaign.

The LDS Church backs out of the meeting with Affirmation due to Riley’s leaving his position as commissioner of LDS Family Services. When the church does not answer Affirmation’s request to meet with another leader, or with President Monson himself, Affirmation holds a press conference on the original meeting date, calling for the church to do more to support its gay and transgender members.

Twenty-year-old Fa Moi Moi allegedly attacks an 18-year-old gay man and two other people on Capitol Hill’s Churchill Drive, breaking the victim’s orbital bone (the series of seven bones surrounding the eyeball). Moi Moi is placed on Utah’s Most Wanted list in November.

The Utah Pride Center holds its annual Golf Classic Tournament, to raise money for its programs and services.


Kevin Jennings, editor, author and executive director of the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, speaks at Equality Utah’s annual Allies Dinner. Jennings says at the time that he is honored to come to Utah because protests against East High School’s gay-straight alliance in 1995 helped to get his organization off the ground.
Cedar City police arrest Jesus Javier Ortega for allegedly stabbing his brother-in-law in the face with a ballpoint pen. Ortega accused his brother-in-law of attempting to turn Ortega’s son gay.
On Sept. 27, Salt Lake City resident James Burson allegedly assaults a gay man in front of an apartment building on 300 W and 200 S while screaming anti-gay insults.

Mormons raise $4.5 million dollars in support of Proposition 8.

The sixth annual Southern Utah Pride Festival is held in Springdale, Utah, attracting the biggest crowd in the event’s history.

Census data released this month indicates that Utah’s numbers of openly gay and lesbian couples, as well as unmarried straight couples, has dramatically risen since 2001.


The Community Counseling Center of Utah holds its third annual Southern Utah Gay and Lesbian Health Summit.

The Utah Pride Center holds its National Coming Out Day Brunch. At the brunch, the Utah Cyber Sluts receive the Center’s organization of the year award, John Johnson receives the volunteer of the year award, and activist and radio personality Joe Redburn receives the lifetime achievement award.

The People With AIDS Coalition of Utah opens Our Store: Your Thrift Alternative to help make the organization self-sufficient so it can improve upon its existing programs and offer more services to Utahns living with HIV and AIDS.

The Utah Pride Center Holds its annual Transgender Awareness Month in partnership with the Transgender Education Advocates of Utah.


Proposition 8’s surprising passage provokes nationwide demonstrations against the amendment. Local activists Jacob Whipple and Elaine Ball organize two such demonstrations in Salt Lake City. Whipple’s, held at the LDS Church’s headquarters, draws at least 3,000 people. Held a week later, Ball’s draws approximately 2,000.

Meanwhile, a number of grass roots organizations and efforts spring up across the country targeted at not only overturning Proposition 8 but at securing equal rights for all Americans, regardless of their sexual orientation, gender identity, race, sex, religious affiliation, age or ability.

Equality Utah calls on the LDS Church to support its Common Ground Initiative, six bills giving gay and transgender Utahns legal protections the church has claimed it supports. The church declines to comment on the initiative.

The Salt Lake City LDS Temple receives an envelope filled with white powder. The FBI later determines the powder to be harmless. Vandals also target ward houses across the state. Police find no evidence connecting the powder of the vandalism to gays or Proposition 8 opponents.

Shawn Cunningham, a former Utah resident who now lives in California, plans a nationwide march on Salt Lake City for March 21, 2009.

Chad Hardy announces that he will sue Brigham Young University for refusing to give him his communications degree, due to the fact he is no longer a member in good standing of the LDS Church.

The founder of Californians Against Hate, a non-profit group dedicated to fighting Proposition 8, files a complaint with California’s Fair Political Practices Commission’s enforcement division, stating that the LDS Church did not disclose its non monetary contributions to pro-Proposition 8 campaigns.

The FBI announces that the number of anti-gay hate crimes reported across the country increased by six percent between 2006 and 2007.


A number of activists organize food and toy drives for the holiday season including Club Try-Angles, Rep. Christine Johnson and Park City activist Mark Worthen.

Salt Lake Country prosecutors announce that they are reconsidering filing charges against Bell and Fair’s attackers.

Jacob Whipple and leaders of Utah’s several gay rights organizations hold a town hall meeting at the Tower Theater to discuss their efforts to bring about gay equality in Utah and to solicit input from members of the community on what steps to take to achieve this goal in 2009.

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