Editor’s note: The following is the first in a two-part series.
On Oct. 4, 1986, during Chuck Whyte’s fifth annual Unity Show, Greg Garcia, a founding member of the Wasatch Leathermen and Motorcycle Club, stood on the street stage and addressed a large gay audience. He stated, “I, as master of the Wasatch Leathermen, invite the heads of all gay and lesbian bars, organizations, and groups to join me in a meeting to begin the vital exchange of aid and information… Brothers and sisters, we face the most dire crisis in our long history. Through unity, we can find hope. Through unity, we will fight oppression from within and without.”
And so was born the only representative organization in Utah’s gay history, the Gay and Lesbian Community Council of Utah.
Two months went by before various leaders of gay organizations could agree to meet to discuss Garcia’s proposal for unifying the community, a concept which was tried by the Utah Community Service Center and Clinic in 1985, but failed. On Dec. 4, 1986, meeting in the Fellowship Hall of the Resurrection Metropolitan Community Church, 13 people met to form what would become the Gay and Lesbian Community Council of Utah. While gay women were invited to the meeting it would be several months before a woman attended and several years before the women’s community decided to take an active role in the council.
Those who were behind the push for a meeting to discuss how to organize the community were Ben Barr of the AIDS Project Utah, Rev. Bruce Barton, and Garcia. The initial purpose of the meeting was to create a type of forum where community organizations could communicate with each other and not book events on top of the other groups’ major events. The grand idea of the initial meeting was to create a sort of United Nations of Utah’s gay interest groups. Barton stated, “I see our organization as a loosely formed council that’s doing information sharing and keeping everyone updated.”
Others also joined, including; John Cooper, director of Salt Lake Affirmation; Donny Eastepp, president of Golden Spike Rodeo Association; Curtis Jensen officer in the Lesbian and Gay Student Union of the University of Utah; Bruce Harmon, a representative of the Royal Court of the Golden Spike Empire; John Sassaman, editor of the Triangle Magazine; Les Emmett, representing the Wasatch Leather and Motorcycle Club; Michael Aaron, David Nelson and Graham Bell representing Gay Community, Inc.
The main divisive issue among the participants was whether the purpose of the group should be political or social. The strong personalities at the meeting had very different and divergent concepts of the direction the community should be. The more conservative, older faction felt the community should not make waves or call attention to itself outside of the gay community. The younger, more politically active faction pushed to have the forum become a political action group.
This initial meeting could not even come up with a name for the group, because of the many trust issues preventing any consensus. The principle item decided at this organization meeting was that they should meet again the next month on the first Thursday, and subsequently the first Thursday of each month. And that was a start.
At the January 1987 meeting of the Community Council, which was the working name for the group, there were no official officers or minutes kept. Members still could not agree on even the purpose of the council nor membership qualifications. Aaron announced that he was launching the Utah Gay and Lesbian Anti-Violence Project to track hate crimes against homosexuals.
The following month, the 12 people in attendance were still debating the appropriateness of supporting political causes. The council still had no regular officers or a secretary. However, by the end of the meeting, Sassaman was elected a pro-tem chair. The most important decision made by the council at this time was adopting to take over official responsibility for Gay Pride Day activities.
In April 1987 I finally attended my first Community Council meeting. Sassaman had another officer to support him — Rev. Bruce Barton was elected acting secretary/treasurer — a position where I would eventually serve for three terms. The Council voted finally that all proposals and motions had to pass with a two-thirds majority. Until this meeting, all proposals had to be unanimous to pass. Also at this meeting, Donny Eastepp, co-owner of the In-Between bar was chosen to chair the Pride Day Committee after he had reserved Sunnyside Park for a July 12 celebration. Salt Lake had a history of a late starting date for Pride Day, due to the Royal Court’s insistence that late June was a bad time since people wanted to go to San Francisco for its Pride Parade. The Council later would vote that Pride Day was to be held in June and not be held hostage by the few who wanted to leave the state.
In May the Council was six-months old and already had two subcommittees. However, during the two-and-a-half-hour meeting the group still wrangled over how political it would become. A division began to arise between solitary activists and those who represented organizations. The only thing decided on at this meeting, by a majority vote, was holding a media event on June 30 to protest Utah’s refusal to fund the AIDS Project Utah. One suggestion was to blow up condoms with helium and set them loose over the state capitol.
The fledgling council did not meet in June due to people’s busy schedules and getting Pride Day organized. At July’s meeting, Pride Day was discussed, and the Pride Committee reported a rousing surplus of $800, which became seed money for next year’s event. The Council also voted on sponsoring Gay Day at Lagoon and renting the Heber Creeper for an AIDS fundraising benefit.
And still, the question of politics was brought up. The council voted to organize a task force to investigate again whether the council should become more politically involved as a political action committee. The council also talked about raising funds to send Mel Baker of KRCL’s Concerning Gays and Lesbians, to represent Utah at the March on Washington in October. He was already a member of the National Committee but lacked funds to get back to Washington. The council provided him with the funds.