Looking back over the past decade it’s hard to imagine a time when there was no Equality Utah, no Swerve, no Utah Stonewall Democrats, and no hate crime legislation. At the start of 2000 only the University of Utah even had an anti-discrimination ordinance in place. Old familiar haunts like The Sun, Axis and the Deerhunter were all gone. Stan Penfold had just been appointed executive director of the Utah AIDS Foundation and Jackie Biskupski had just become Utah’s first openly gay legislator.
As a historian I believe only sociopaths never look back, so here are some special events to help us get a perspective of how far we have come since the Y2K scare threatened to end civilization as we knew it.
• January 2000: An independent committee including students and faculty at Weber State University raised more than $50,000 to create the Matthew Shepard Scholarship fund. Gail Ruzicka called the scholarship “absolutely inappropriate.” Two of the winners requested to remain anonymous. “It’s a sad day when you can’t print your name in the paper for fear that someone’s going to hurt you,” said one of the winners of partial tuition, a 35-year-old WSU junior who lived in Ogden with her partner and 5-year-old daughter.
• February 2000: Vermont offered registered partners benefits for gay and lesbian couples. Gay Mormon Stuart Mathis committed suicide on steps of a Mormon Church in California to protest LDS involvement in Proposition 22, an anti-gay marriage initiative. On that note, in 1999 local activist Kathy Worthington initiated a campaign to get gay and gay-friendly Mormons to renounce their membership in the LDS Church in response to blatant anti-gay efforts by its hierarchy. Kathy Worthington died in 2007
• March 2000: The Division of Child and Family Services’ board of trustees voted in 1999 to ban adoptions of children in state care by homosexual couples or unmarried heterosexual couples. In 2000 the State Legislature created a law supporting the DCSF position which then-Utah Governor Mike Leavitt signed. Rep. Jackie Biskupski, D-Salt Lake City told lawmakers: “I am not all of those negative things you have been taught to believe about me. I am not less than human and therefore do not deserve to have my liberties taken away from me.”
• April 2000: Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson, making good on a campaign promise, signed an executive order protecting gay and lesbian city workers from discrimination.
• May 2000: Five years after the contentious debate over gay-lesbian-straight school clubs began in Utah, East High School students met in the PRISM Club, the state’s first school-sponsored club organized to discuss current events from a gay and lesbian perspective.
• June 2000: The first gay rodeo held in Utah was organized by the Utah Gay Rodeo Association. Dean Walton, a.k.a. Auntie De’, who died in 2009, was chosen as Grand Marshal. Fund-raising coordinator Chad Keller, who died in 2007, stated the cost of the event was near $50,000. When organizers called Utah stock owners to rent animals for the rodeo, all refused when they found out it was a gay-sponsored event. The U.S. Supreme Court’s 5-4 ruling upheld the Boy Scouts of America’s right to exclude gays from membership. A federal judge upheld a decision to dismiss a lawsuit that alleged Utah’s sodomy and fornication laws violated a constitutional right to privacy. In 2003, the U.S. Supreme Court decided all sodomy laws were in violation of the US Constitution.
• August 2000: Gay LDS historian Jay Bell and Robert Rees held a forum at the Sunstone Symposium titled “Remembering the Gay Suicides, a Memorial Session to remember Stuart Matis and DJ Thompson.” Jay Bell died in 2003.
• September 2000: The Utah Court of Appeals rejected Ken Larsen’s claims that the city’s “no-cruising on State Street” ordinance violated his state and federal constitutional rights. Larsen, a Libertarian mayoral candidate, became one of the first drivers cited for violating Salt Lake City’s new cruising ordinance. In 1999 Ken Larsen, although he is not a homosexual, also applied for a gay marriage license that was denied, as a way of challenging the states gay-marriage ban.
• October 2000: Students who tried to form two gay clubs at East High School dropped lawsuits against the Salt Lake City School District after learning the district would sanction two gay clubs at East High under a revised club policy. Stephen Clark, the ACLU’s legal counsel said, “That certainly is a victory for gay students and their friends and supporters.” Mormon parents of gay children pleaded with LDS Church leaders to halt distribution of the pamphlets “To Young Men Only,” “To the One,” “Letter to a Friend” and “For the Strength of Youth,” saying that they say condemned their offspring as “latter-day lepers.” David Hardy, a former Mormon bishop, said the language caused “parents to condemn and turn against their gay children, destroying real families, and drive our gay children to self-loathing, despair and suicide.”
• November 2000: BYU performed the 1934, Lillian Hellman drama The Children’s Hour which brought to the LDS-owned school’s stage Martha Dobie, “perhaps the first gay character who wasn’t an out-and-out stereotype.” The student playing the character said, “I don’t feel that she is actually a lesbian.” The Provo-based software Novell Inc. stopped matching employee contributions to the Boy Scouts of America, citing the youth organization’s exclusion of homosexual scoutmasters as a violation of the company’s anti-discrimination policies.
• December 2000: A petition to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, signed “Mormon Advocates for Further Light and Knowledge” appeared as an ad in The Salt Lake Tribune. The document called upon LDS general authorities to repudiate the church’s overall position that “same-sex attraction is an undesirable and unnatural emotion, which, when acted upon results in sinful, Satan-inspired behavior.” The petition’s author was Mac Madsen, a former Weber State University healthy lifestyles professor and men’s golf coach.
And that the way it was in the year 2000.