Lambda Lore

Look how far we’ve made it

Holy hell! The Advocate named Salt Lake City the Gayest City in America based on nine arbitrary criteria, and you would have thought we had pissed in everybody’s Cheerios! I couldn’t believe the rants on why it was so wrong to consider Salt Lake City the gayest city. What really ticked me off was that so many of the negative comments were from people that live, or have lived, here. Geez, what crawled up their butts? When did being gay stop meaning having a sense of humor?

The silly, nonscientific survey by Matthew Breen chose arbitrary norms such as how many concerts since 2009 The Veronicas, The Cliks and Gossip had performed within the city limits; whether the city had nude yoga; and how many International Mr. Leather Contest semifinalists came from the city. I was pleasantly surprised that we had all three. But we were robbed in two other areas! The author of the survey overlooked the fact that we have a gay elected official in the city, Stan Penfold, and we do have an Imperial Court System. Even though we were robbed of two extra points, we still won.

How did we win? OK, more by luck than anything else. After adding up the points it was then decided by the city’s population. Even without the Imperial Court and elected LGBT official points we received 3.9 compared to runner-up Orlando, Florida’s measly 2.9 points.  Denver which was in 15th place came in at a mere 1.5. They must feel mortified.

I hate to think that Salt Lake City won only because our scant population of 186,440 pushed us over the edge, but I think it was so. Thanks are due to all you queers that left the city for Sunrise and points south. Without your exodus, we could not have done it without you.

Well the survey was fun, but it seems to me that it gave a lot of people a reason to “diss” our community rather than celebrate it. These negative people have no idea how fast and how far Salt Lake City has grown over the decades. Perhaps if they participated in community organizations and volunteered at the Pride Center they wouldn’t be such kill-joys.

Here in Salt Lake City we are in a unique position by being a small city. There is no anonymity here for people coming out as there is in big coastal cities. Everything we have accomplished in Salt Lake City was fought for inch-by-inch with blood, sweat and tears by people willing to put it all on the line. The ripple effect of the gay struggle in Salt Lake City spread to Cache Valley, Ogden, Utah County, Iron County and Washington County.

Salt Lake City did not have a welcome mat for homosexuals. There was no open-door policy for the gays. What we take for granted today – an LGBT community center, Pride parade, Equality Utah, and so much more are here because someone fought for gay rights.

When I came out of the closet it was illegal to rent a one-bedroom apartment to two men. There was no legal recourse for job discrimination. If you were gay-bashed, the official position was that you had it coming.

In 1969, a handful of gay men and women formed a Gay Liberation Front. They brought their message to the University of Utah campus at the same time Brigham Young University had a program of terror for gays on its campus. By 1972, only four years after it had been founded in California, a Metropolitan Community Church was established, and it has been a presence here the past 40 years fighting for social justice. The Imperial Court system was established in 1975 as well as the first gay community center. In 1976 and ’77 came Affirmation and the University of Utah Gay Student Union. In less than a decade Salt Lake City had a thriving gay community.

The 1980s saw an explosion of gay support groups, health organizations and political awareness. The Salt Lake Men’s Choir was formed in 1982. We had a local, gay radio program. The Gay and Lesbian Community Council, formed in 1986, organized bigger and better Pride Days, built a relationship with the Salt Lake police department, and was the main clearing house for issues affecting our community.

By the 1990s we were strong enough to create a permanent community center and flex our political muscle. We held our first Gay Pride Parade in the capital city. Salt Lake City’s East High hosted the first Gay Straight Alliance club and membership in Parents and Friends of Gays and Lesbians exploded. The first homosexual state representative was elected by the end of the decade. Gay and lesbian Democrats were called a powerhouse.

The 2000s saw the formation of Equality Utah, and the election of a gay man to the Salt Lake City council. We elected our first gay state senator. Anti-discrimination laws were first enacted in Salt Lake City and then in city after city across the state.

I have lived in Salt Lake City since 1985. I have seen this community change so much that I can hardly recognize it. While it’s fine to recognize our failings, I think they are truly insignificant compared to the great strength of our people. We are still here. We are still standing. We are even thriving! So yes, I believe that Salt Lake City is the gayest city in America because of all the fabulous people I have had the privilege to know while living in the city I call home. We are the gayest city in America through the old-fashioned way: We earned it.

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