Guest Editorials

Joe Redburn, a trailblazer for LGBTQ equality in Utah

by Rocky Anderson

Joe and I became friends in the late ’70s or early ’80s, working together on the board of the Utah Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union. He was, as everyone knows, a trailblazer for LGBTQ equality in Utah, but his commitments extended to civil rights of all kinds for everyone.

Joe was a loyal and generous friend — with a warm, wry sense of humor, and a wonderfully deep voice and laugh. He generously hosted campaign fundraisers (memorable parties) at The Trapp when I ran for mayor. (However, characteristically, he didn’t hesitate to call and rip into me when, as mayor, I advocated an end to smoking in all public places!)

I proudly provided legal representation for Joe when we successfully challenged the constitutionality of the police looking through a peep-hole in the door of the Sun Tavern, witnessing people drinking after-hours, for which the Sun was cited.

Joe worked hard as a business owner to provide unique places for gays and straights alike to gather and build fond lifetime memories. I was amazed when, as a rather naive straight Utah college boy, I visited the Sun Tavern in the old Railroad Exchange location with some friends and found there was an openly-gay bar where straight people like me were welcomed. Getting to know one another in settings like that is perhaps the best means of developing friendships and expanding understanding between people with differences, leading to collaborations like Joe and I had in our battles for greater justice.

Joe invited me to be the grand marshal of the Utah Gay Rodeo when I was mayor. I was to gallop around the arena, wave to the crowd and cut sharply at a certain place to join a line of rodeo dignitaries lined up in the middle of the arena. When I first got on the horse provided to me, I fell to the ground because the left stirrup, which bore all of my weight lifting myself over the saddle, came unbuckled.

A couple of guys hustled to fix the stirrup. Then, Joe introduced me through the sound system as the Grand Marshal.

I confidently galloped into the arena, waved to the crowd as I held the reins in my left, rode two-thirds the way around the arena, and listening to Joe’s booming voice say the crowd, “Mayor Anderson is a quite a horseman in his own right.”

Within seconds of Joe’s kind comment, as I leaned hard to the left and cut sharply toward the group in the middle of the arena, the left stirrup unbuckled. Suddenly, straddling the horse, I panicked, and as my right leg barely hanged over the saddle and clutching the saddle horn for dear life, Joe sarcastically announced to the crowd, “Well, maybe I spoke too soon.” I was mortified but laughing at Joe’s hilarious commentary. 

I hadn’t heard from, or about, Joe for several years. I was devastated to learn, after Joe’s death, that he had been homeless. Had I known, I would have made sure he had a home and I am, frankly, upset that no one who knew reached out to all his friends to join together to help. (I’m aware there was an online effort to raise a little money, but, as with mouse-click activism, we need to organize by talking with one another once in a while!)

Working together, we could all have made such a difference. I know many others that, if they had known, would have helped Joe in his time of need, as he would have done for any of us.

Let us never forget that, if we seek to claim membership in a “community,” we must all watch out for each other and extend the same kinds of generosity toward others that Joe did for so many throughout his life.

Related Articles

Back to top button