In the wake of the suicides of three young gay Utah men, a local member of the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community is putting together a rally to address ways of keeping families with gay and transgender members together.
Prompted by the July suicide of Todd Ransom as well as “the realization that one of my friends is going to pass away from Lou Gehrig Disease,” Turner Bitton has scheduled the “Rally for Equality” for Aug. 13, 6 p.m., on the south lawn of the State Capitol Building. At press time, the speakers for the event included Bitton, QSaltLake publisher and editor-in-chief Michael Aaron and Alison Black, president of Ogden’s PFLAG chapter.
“I’ll be talking about the direction our community needs to head, focusing on things like nondiscrimination ordinances, gay-straight alliances in high schools, things like that that protect our community and build our community,” said Bitton, adding that he thinks a big part of community building is creating a support network for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender youth.
Black, said Bitton, will speak about how “she’s been able to draw parallels between two lives and reconcile” her membership in the LDS Church (where she serves as a Primary teacher) and with loving and affirming her gay son, who works for Equality New York.
“She’s going to be speaking on the role of mothers and how being a mother as well as a member of church shaped her to where she could accept her son,” he said.
“It’s a story you don’t hear all too often because we like to criticize the LDS Church, and while there needs to be public debate with the church, there also needs to be private conversations that take place between the LDS Church and us.”
Aaron, he added, will speak about “being informed and actively fighting apathy.” Aaron’s July 22 editorial column in QSaltLake urged readers and the community at large to reach out to those struggling with suicidal thoughts.
Bitton, who is a former member of the LDS Church, also stressed that straight Mormons can be allies in the struggle for gay and transgender rights.
“If you look at LDS history, they’ve had close to 200 years of discrimination against them,” he said. “If we can build on these two heritages—the fact we’re discriminated against and at one point they were—we can draw some similarities from these instances of discrimination and prejudice.”
As a former Mormon, Bitton also said he had seen the church take care of its members. When his uncle died in 2009, he said that ward members “comforted his widow, provided house payments and food and the ward came together to support their own.”
“In many ways we don’t often support our own,” he said. “If we draw on the lessons from the LDS Church we can learn something.”
Like Aaron, Bitton said that he also wants to see local gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people reach out to one another and support programs that support the community.
“The [Utah] Pride Center is a perfect example of what I want to see happening in our community, but it’s only as good as its most active members, and unfortunately we have people who believe that the Pride Center doesn’t serve a purpose, or that activities like FAYME [For Active Young Men Everywhere, the Center’s group for gay and bisexual young men] don’t do anything for our community. But in many ways they teach us how to be healthy members of the community.”