Like in California, activists in Utah rose up after the election to rally against Proposition 8 and against the heavy involvement of the Mormon Church in Prop 8's passage. Jacob Whipple, one of the leaders of the grassroots efforts in Utah, helped organize events and rallies and brought national attention to the state.
Jacob continues to lead a new grass roots organization in Utah, the "All for One Initiative," partnering with other Utah groups to promote the "Common Ground" bills aimed at gaining some level of equality for Utah's LGBT population. They hope this will be achieved by focusing on areas in which the LGBT community and the Mormon Church agree on issues. Additionally, Jacob is leading efforts to better organize the community through town hall meetings, community service projects, and other forms of grassroots organizing.
Below Jacob shares his story and some insight on his involvement on the local level.
You really stepped up and took a leadership role in the Utah LGBT community immediately after the election. Tell us how that went? How'd you go from being a citizen upset over the California Proposition 8 election to leader of a new movement in your local community?
It was nothing that I had expected or had hoped for. The true reason for my involvement comes down to having met the man of my dreams and asking him to marry me. Because the wedding plans that I had with my fiancé, when Proposition 8 was passed it was a very personal and very debilitating blow.
Once rallies started to take place in California, the realization dawned on me that our community was not going to lie down and take it like we have when so many other amendments and laws had passed against us. That is when I decided that Utah, too, should be part of these demonstrations and rallies. I thought that being in Utah, we had the responsibility to directly reprimand the Mormon church for their heavy-handed influence in passing Prop 8 and let them know that we would not tolerate their interference in our personal lives again.
Due to the success and turn out of that first rally around Temple Square I was incredibly encouraged. I saw that not just dozens or hundreds, but thousands of people were willing to brave the cold and march with us. I didn't want that energy or fervor to end. I didn't want to see that wave of rallies be the end of what could become our renewed Gay Rights Movement. And I, personally, didn't want to stand by idly, as I had before, while legislators and the general population vote on my rights, protections and freedoms. I had resolved to make a difference.
Through brainstorming and a coalition that includes other grassroots activists in Utah we've been able to come up with ideas and events to keep our momentum going. We have a set of 6 bills, called the Common Ground Initiative, that would guarantee our LGBT community protections such as fair housing, fair employment, along with health care and wrongful death rights. I only hope that our community can keep up with the pace and determination that we're setting for them.
Your Salt Lake City Mormon Temple rally gained widespread media coverage. Your efforts were highlighted in national and international media stories. You were profiled on the cover of Q Salt Lake, the state's LGBT newspaper. How do you feel about all this media attention? What do you hope to gain from the coverage?
Honestly, I'm very glad for all of the media attention. Whether it's me that they're focusing on or other grassroots activists here in Utah, and around the country, I think it's necessary that we change public opinion about our community. I think that the majority of the country forms their opinions about us based upon Will & Grace, Pride Parades, and scandals that usually include drug abuse or elected officials being caught in sex-stings.
I believe that one of the most important things that we can do is to come out to our families, neighbors and co-workers so that they know that they know one of us. I want the world to see us as normal people, as family members, as contributors to our local communities, and as people deserving to have the same rights and benefits that they do. I hope that our stories are told to show that we have the same hopes and desires. When they know us personally, instead of as "the gays," they are less likely to vote against us, as they know that it will directly and personally affect someone that they know in a very real way.
And I think that national and even international coverage is necessary. We need to keep these issues out and in the public mind constantly. We can't let our losses be swept under the rug any more. We must decry every instance of discrimination: being fired, beatings and murders, tyranny of the masses in voting to limit our rights. I think these issues need to become as prevalent in the everyday lives of the straights as it is for us. Only then, I think, will they realize what our community has been suffering and will stand with us.
You are engaged to be married to your partner Drew, and were planning a California wedding. With the passage of Proposition 8, what are your plans? How has your activism impacted that?
We're still going ahead with out plans. We want to get married on the beach in California on April 11th, and we're not going to let the misguided popular vote of Californians ruin our plans. We will still say our vows before God, our family and friends. The State is welcome as well, so we're crossing our fingers that the California Supreme Court overturns Prop 8 before our wedding day. If it takes longer than that, or, God forbid, Proposition 8 remains on the books, then we will see about making a trip somewhere just to make it official: Toronto, Boston, Spain, Copenhagen, etc... There are a lot of options.
I don't think that my activism has impacted our wedding plans that much. Though, I must admit that it can be pretty crazy trying to plan a wedding, a rally, the Queer Lounge at Sundance, as well as attend press conferences and meet with the Mayor all at the same time. If anything, Drew is worried that my activism would affect our relationship and would keep me away from him. Fortunately, that hasn't been the case yet. And I hope and pray that those two important aspects of my life never conflict with each other.
As an advocate on the ground in Utah, what do you think about local mainstream media coverage of LGBT stories?
We have our allies and we have our skeptics and enemies. The Mormon church does own media here in Utah, so the likes of KSL or the Deseret News paint our events as annoyances, if they're mentioned at all. I also read through the comments for the stories posted online by those media outlets, so that I know what the arguments are of the right-wing conservative traditionalists here in Utah.
On the other hand the local FOX affiliate, incredibly, has been one of our strongest advocates, as well as the state's major paper, the Salt Lake Tribune. They've covered every event and tell personal stories as well. Q Salt Lake, our local gay magazine, is also very cooperative in every aspect, including helping me network, locate door prizes for events, etc.
All in all, it's what I expect, just like any audience. You have those that will agree with you and those that won't. Some will put you in the best light possible, and some in the worst. But again, I'm a strong believer that by repetition, by keeping our stories and our issues out there, we will continue to gain traction, to gain sympathy, and in the end gain equality.
How do you think LGBT people and allies in Utah can help get media there to tell more fair, accurate, and inclusive LGBT stories?
I think that the only thing that we can do is to continuously tell our stories and hold events, hoping that through time and repetition that the media and their viewership and readership are softened to our cause. And those that do have contact with the media should know that they are, perhaps unfairly, being used to represent the whole of our community and they should remember that and act accordingly.
What's the most important way LGBT people and allies in your community can help change hearts and minds?
That's something that I've pondered over for months now. I'm sure that it's personal interaction that can change hearts and minds. I know I'm repeating myself, but I really do believe that this is the key. We need to come out to everyone we know. We already have relationships and the trust of our family and neighbors and co-workers. Therefore, I believe it's important to show those with whom we interact that we are still the same people that they've known for years, and we still deserve the respect, trust and love that they've had in us before they knew. They need to know how LGBT bills would affect you, for good or for bad, so that they know how to vote or in which way they should support those measures. We need to initiate that dialogue and convince them through our personal lives and stories to stand with us.