Over 200 people holding candles and glow sticks gathered at Liberty Park in Salt Lake City in response to recent assaults against gay men. Organized by the newly formed City of Hope, the event brought together speakers and participants of many faiths decrying acts of violence.
Cameron Nelson, who was attacked outside his workplace early Thursday, was not up to attending, his sister Marnie Nelson Bales told the crowd.
“Cam is a warm, kind, loving person with a great big heart,” said Bales, who told the crowd that she and her family are members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. “He’s my brother and we love him.”
Bales recounted a story that happened just last week while she and Nelson were at The Gateway.
While stopping for a frozen yogurt on the way to a movie, “a female customer made disparaging remarks about [Nelson], and it hurt me and infuriated me that such remarks can be made about such a wonderful and kind human being, about someone she didn’t know and just judged because of the way he looked,” she said. “It’s intolerable to treat anyone as less than precious and valuable.”
“Each of us is loved and valued by someone and we each mean the world to someone. The acts of violence that have been perpetrated against my brother and others are heinous and unacceptable. These men have done nothing to hinder the freedoms of anyone.” Bales continued. “These acts of violence cannot and should not be tolerated.”
Nelson’s 14-year-old niece read a poem that she wrote for a class assignment about tolerance.
“We all were born naked and without strength. So why abuse the strength we grow to gain?” she read. “What would the world be like if instead we say, I looked into your soul today?”
Salt Lake City Police Chief Chris Burbank attended the rally with several other officers and addressed the crowd.
“It’s so important for the police to attend events like this; and unfortunately it is also unusual as we look across the country,” he said.
He told of a gay male cousin who was victim of domestic violence on several occasions who reached out to him because he was uncomfortable calling the police. His cousin was an elementary school teacher and feared the loss of his job if others found out about his sexual orientation.
“It was over 20 years ago,” Burbank said. “And the thing that the events of the last few weeks have highlighted to me is that we have people in our community, 20 years later, who still cannot come forward because of the stigma that may be attached to them. … We should have learned better.”
Burbank also warned the crowd not to jump to label the events as hate crimes.
“I don’t know a single act of violence that does not involve hate,” he said. “The outrage is that one of our citizens was assaulted on our streets in Salt Lake City.”
First Baptist Church Rev. Curtis Price said members of his church are outraged by the brutality of the recent assaults.
“Our outrage has become, for us, a call. A call to stand with those who are victimized because of their sexual orientation. A call to stand in the gap and to meet every act of violence with acts of compassion; every act of exclusion with tremendous inclusion; every instance of hate with acceptance; and every action borne out of fear with action borne out of love,” he said.
Dane Hall, shy and with his mouth wired shut, also spoke to those gathered, thanking them for being at the rally and for their support over the past week. His friend Steven Salabsky spoke on his behalf.
“I never knew how it felt, and how it would feel, to have this done to a close friend.I grew up my whole life figuring that maybe in time that this would end, and hoping that it would end. Now I see it is time that we have to stand up,” Salabsky said. “Dane said to me today that this needs to come to an end.”
Alan Bounville, in town during his walk across the nation to end gender discrimination, led a march to the 9th and 9th business district and back to the park. Posters with images of people killed or hurt in hate-motivated violence were held by some and many sang along the route.