Pushing for LGBTQ+ Equality in Utah

Salt Lake City, UT – The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, also known as the LDS, is very well known with its 16.8 million Mormon followers. Utah in particular is home to many of the church’s members. Soon to be head of the church, apostle Dallin H. Oaks, had given a speech at the University of Virginia this past December hailing about the importance of LGBTQ nondiscrimination laws and religious freedoms in the state. Oaks spoke on the “Utah Compromise” passed in 2015 which “..bans discrimination against LGBTQ people in housing and employment while carving out exceptions for religious reasons.” However; many LGBTQ activists feel the joining of two dividing communities is not going to be enough.

While LDS leaders and lawmakers believe Utah will stand as a “role model” for other states to join in and produce some of their own similar laws, there are still many gaps. Securing religious freedoms in the state is nothing new and was more than likely just used to set a compromise for conservative voters. 

Troy Williams, head of Equality Utah and known as the “unofficial gay mayor of Salt Lake City”, believes there may be another way to push for more inclusivity. Williams has worked for a long time as an LGBTQ activist. He led kiss-in rallies at the major temple in Salt Lake City in 2009 and in 2014 was jailed after a sit-in at the state capitol. Williams still believes there is a way to bring in lawmakers and Mormon leaders but is looking to the tech industry to spark a new change. With growing startups popping up in Salt Lake City, tech entrepreneurs are looking to push down the influence LDS leaders have on social issues. 

Right now Salt Lake City has one the highest percentages of LGBTQ residents in the country with businesses coming in left and right including queer book stores and drag shows. While the state has made a lot of progress with its laws overturning the “No Promo Homo” in 2017 which prohibited discussion of LGBTQ issues in classrooms and banning conversion therapy in 2020, there is still discrimination in public places. For example, Mormon bakers are allowed to turn away wedding cake services for same-sex couples. 

While lawmakers believe they’ve done enough for the community, tech entrepreneurs believe otherwise. “Despite the fact that the church is making more efforts on LGBTQ identities, it’s not enough for tech culture, which doesn’t have tolerance for discrimination of any kind,” said Taylor Petrey, a religion professor at Kalamazoo College who has written a book on Mormonism and LGBTQ issues. “[These tech leaders] want to assimilate into broader America, and this isn’t the issue they want to be identified with.”

Many Mormon tech entrepreneurs who have been influenced by the Silicon Valley libertarian culture, have donated to an organization that is working to offer more progressive views in state politics outside of the LDS church known as the Utah Tech Leads.

 “Mormons have been different for a long time. There’s a recognition you need to accept other people who are different,” said Josh James, CEO of the software company DOMO. James has been advocating against discrimination laws put on transgender individuals and liquor laws in the state. Along with Apple CEO Tim Cook, both men have also donated to a drop-in center for LGBTQ youth. 

Jeff T. Greens, Mormon, billionaire, and founder of the online advertising company Trade Desk, agreed to meet with Williams to work on dulling the influence of the church in the state. Green was skeptical about the state’s compromise laws and wanted to do something to help the LGBTQ community. Green expressed he was going to be leaving the church soon and wondered what Equality Utah could do with more money. 

Green has been working on removing himself from the church since 2008 when he discovered Mormons have donated millions of dollars to Proposition 8 which banned same sex marriage in the California. The church received a lot of scrutiny especially from its members and Green decided to look more into the Mormonism. He concluded it was not progressing in areas like women’s rights, civil rights, and polygamy. 

Since meeting with Williams, Green has donated $600,000 to Equality Utah. “I know there’s an attitude that we had this great Utah compromise and somehow we make it work, but we haven’t made it work yet,” Green said. “We can. We’ll get there.”

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