Joyful Sound Celebration Draws Hundreds to Hill

A Joyful Sound for Common Ground, a celebration of music and shared community held days before the 2010 General Legislative Session opened its doors drew approximately 800 Utahns of all faiths, sexual orientations and gender identities to the Capitol Rotunda, according to one of the event’s organizers.

Russ Gorringe-Baker, chair of the Interfaith Pride Committee which co-sponsored the event along with local groups as diverse as the Utah Pride Center, Equality Utah, PFFLAG and the Inclusion Center for Community & Justice, said that he estimated at least that many people crowded in the expansive building when he attempted to count.

“Many people may have estimated smaller because the rotunda is so big that a big gathering looks small but I was counting the rows [of people],” he said. “At first I was thinking maybe 200 or 300, but I think we were closer to 800 or maybe 1000.”

Unlike political rallies the local gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community and its allies have held before previous sessions, Joyful Sound brought this crowd together for an evening of music by the First Unitarian Church of Salt Lake City and prayers and blessings by a number of Utah’s gay-friendly clergy and faith groups, including Fr. Bob Bussen of St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Park City.

The evening also featured inspirational speeches by RadioActive producer, playwright and _QSaltLake_ columnist Troy Williams (whose complete remarks can be read in this issue) and Dustin Lance Black, the Academy Award-winning screenwriter of Milk, the 2009 film about the life and times of Harvey Milk, the U.S.’ first openly gay politician. Black is also the narrator of 8: The Mormon Proposition, a documentary about the LDS Church’s involvement in the passage of Proposition 8 in 2008, a measure which re-banned same-sex marriage in California. The documentary premiered at the Sundance Film Festival on Jan. 24.

In his remarks, Black invoked the spirit of Harvey Milk and told those gathered that they were following his example in Utah by coming out of the closet and reaching out to those around them in love and determination.

“I didn’t come to Salt Lake City to protest. I came to Salt Lake City to introduce myself, to share a message of love and mutual respect with our fellow God-loving, patriotic Americans and to encourage all of you in continuing this education campaign,” he said, his voice reverberating through the rotunda’s expanse. “I’ve heard so much about the great work you’re doing here, and I want to encourage you to continue it.”

Calling to mind Milk’s assertion that gay and lesbian Americans would never have full equality “until all our rights are secured,” Black encouraged those in attendance to build coalitions among other marginalized groups “because the coalition of the us-es is unbeatable at the ballot box.”

Black, who lives in California, then discussed the passage of Proposition 8, a political move that he called “devastating” not just politically and socially, but to the most vulnerable of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Americans: youth.

“I feel certain there’s a kid right here in Salt Lake City … who woke up the morning after that election to see yet again gays and lesbians had been denied their rights,” he said. “I know all too well the dire solutions that may have flashed through his or her head.”

Noting that gay and lesbian youth are much more likely than their straight counterparts to attempt suicide and be kicked out of their homes, Black encouraged those present to continue the fight for full federal and state equality not only for themselves, but for these children. The efforts for equality must be redoubled state by state, he noted, “in a way that has not been seen since Harvey Milk’s time.” Above all, he encouraged those present not to engage in the tactics of fear, divisiveness and lies in which anti-gay opponents have lately engaged.

“This is a movement of love, compassion and mutual respect. Your truth is your shield and your story is your sword,” he said to loud applause.

Black’s speech inspired several in the audience, including Equality Utah Executive Director Brandie Balken.

“I felt empowered listening to him, that someone with a lot of stature in the LGBT community was talking about how important the work we were engaging here on the ground in Utah was,” she said.

While Black’s presence was, undoubtedly, a factor in the large turnout for A Joyful Sound for Common Ground, Gorringe-Baker also attributed the event’s popularity to the number of groups that put it together.

“We got word out [about the event] a little bit later than our initial save the dates partly because we weren’t 100 percent sure we could get [Black],” he said. “We didn’t mention him, just that we were coming together as an interfaith community and having this event. I think a lot of it was the number of volunteers on the organizing committee getting the word out.”

A complete video of Black’s speech can be found at tinyurl.com/ylb74bq.


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