‘I am who I am’: A profile of one man’s journey toward self-acceptance

Story and slideshow by DAYLAN JONES

Feeling from an early age that you are attracted to the same sex can be scary and confusing.

“I thought it was normal to feel this way. It wasn’t till 5th grade when I realized there were homosexuals and it wasn’t considered ‘normal’ to everyone else,” said R. Gamelson.

“Moving to the States, exploring my wants, coming out to my family and being on my own,” all those things were difficult and scary, said Gamelson, who asked that his first name not be used.

He feared being judged but said, “Even though I feel I am an exception, I am who I am. I am the same person; I will not treat you differently, so why would you treat me differently… If we quit assuming things and educate ourselves, the world will be a lot more accepting.”

Gamelson was born in the Philippines and lived there until he was 12. He said it’s a completely different culture there. “It isn’t bad to be gay over there. In some cases it is even celebrated,” he said.

When his parents decided to come to America Gamelson was excited to start a new school and make new friends. “I feel like I was an exception, I wasn’t shy, I didn’t act ‘prissy’ and I was good at sports,” he said.

Still silently questioning his sexuality in the back of his mind, he pushed it to the side and kept busy. He was involved in sports, newspaper, yearbook and theater. Gamelson made many friends quickly and felt accepted.

Although he said he enjoyed being involved in many extracurricular activities, he had one love: dance.

Gamelson started dancing at age 4 and credits his sanity today to over 15 years of dance, he said jokingly.

“It is my art, my expression and my outlet,” he said. Eventually he hopes to own his own studio and make that his life’s work.

“I only stopped for one year in junior high because of the fear of being judged or not being accepted,” he said. “After I got over that, nothing was going to stop me from achieving my dreams.” He said dancing is his escape from everyone he is afraid will judge him or treat him differently. “Art forms and outlets do not judge, only people do.”

His high school dance teacher, Karen Jones, said, “Ron is a beautiful dancer. Being a boy in high school, it is not common for a boy to stand out and stand proud as a dancer, he did both… He wasn’t concerned what others thought because he was proud of his ability and that was his to have; no one could take that away.”

Though he felt accepted socially, his self-acceptance was still a constant battle. He said the questioning became more intense and harder to push aside.

When Gamelson entered his senior year he couldn’t fight it anymore. That’s when he made the decision to accept being gay; accept it within himself. He knew what felt wrong and what felt right. Yet, he wasn’t quite ready for the world to know. His upcoming job offer was the perfect way to explore that.

“I met [him] at the gym I was going to. He heard I was a dancer and he offered me a job,” Gamelson said about his boss who introduced him to the gay community. That’s when Gamelson landed the job that started the double life no one knew about during his senior year.

“I would go to school like everyone else and go-go dance at night in Salt Lake City,” he said.

Seeing the new job as an opportunity to get to know a different side of himself and get to know this new community, Gamelson danced most Friday nights. “I would arrive at 9 that night, walk in through the back door and get myself ready. There was an immense amount of body oil and glitter,” he said.

Although he was a little overwhelmed his first night at the club, the night’s pay eased his concerns. Yet, fearing judgment and questioning of his sexuality Gamelson told no one; not his friends or family.

“About a year into it I told very few people, but I continued to dance another year before I was done,” he said.

“I came to the knowledge that you cannot have a relationship; you are there to flirt and entertain, to make money in tips. That is just too detrimental for a healthy relationship,” Gamelson said.

Meanwhile, Gamelson attended Weber State University where he completed his associate’s degree in spring 2012. “It made me realize I don’t necessarily need school to live my dream,” he said. “I believe a general knowledge is important, but I don’t need more than that to own my studio.”

Joking that the associate’s degree was easier than having the courage to tell the people who were closest to him, Gamelson said his mom “just knew… if you got in trouble and had to tell your mom, you know not to look her in the eyes because she already knew, she knows you better than anyone.”

But he was nervous to tell his dad. “My dad was a bit different; he had a hard time at first knowing his boy who was athletic and who played football was ‘playing for the other team,’ but he came around and we are pretty close again.”

Gamelson said most of his friends were supportive when he came out. “Some stuck around, a lot stuck around. They accepted [that]I am who I am.”

He enjoys giving back to his community. He volunteers at the Utah Pride Center, where he acts as an ambassador. “I saw an ad on Facebook, I called, went through some meetings, got the opportunity to speak with youth who were and weren’t struggling with their sexuality. I wanted to help; it is a support group, it is safe.”

Gamelson said he has learned a lot about himself and others during his coming out process. “There is a lot of assuming; people assuming I was one way and I wasn’t, me assuming I would be judged and not accepted but I was by many,” he said. “If we quit assuming things and educate ourselves, the world will be a lot more accepting.”

Berlin Schlegel has learned to take the good with the bad

Story and slideshow by Valeria Moncada

Get to know Berlin Schlegel and his friends.

Coming from an LDS family, Berlin Schlegel, 20, has had to face many difficult situations throughout his lifetime. Yet, in hand with these difficulties he has also had positive life lessons that he has learned from.

Schlegel was born in North Dakota. A month later he was adopted and then taken to Montana by his adoptive family.

“I grew up there until the age of 12,” Schlegel said. He then moved to Utah with his family and has lived here ever since.

He came out to his family and friends during his senior year of high school in October 2009. The process took about a month due to Schlegel’s fear of not being accepted.

“When coming out to my friends I didn’t feel as much fear as I did when coming out to my family. My friends made me feel comfortable and accepted,” he said. “My family, on the other hand, made me nervous and I felt like I could not tell them. It was a very big step for me.”

Schlegel added, “My friends took it incredibly well, I certainly could not have done it without them.”

He vividly remembers the night he came out to his mom.

“It was Halloween night when I built up the courage to tell my mother,” he said. “She was very upset and I ended up staying the night at a friend’s place.”

Schlegel’s father and sister took his coming out surprisingly well, by accepting him and his decisions. Things then gradually became easier with his family, until Christmas Eve.

“My mother and I got into another argument about my orientation,” Schlegel said. “It ended up with me being told to leave. That was definitely the worst of everything. As time passed things gradually began getting better.”

Schlegel has had to face many difficult situations in life, yet he has no regrets.

“I don’t really like to think of myself as having any regrets,” he said. “I think that there is something to be gained from every experience, regardless of how positive or negative it may seem.”

The most meaningful object to Schlegel is some old paperwork, such as his birth certificate and other hospital documents, that he has from his birth family.

“It’s all that I really know about them and I would like to find them someday,” Schlegel said. “I suppose that it would be one of the only tangible things that hold a lot of meaning for me.”

Another thing that Schlegel hopes to do one day is to see a Broadway show.

“It seems like it would be fun and I have always wanted to attend one,” he said.

Human rights are a subject that Schlegel is very interested in. His biggest interest is ongoing historical examples of discrimination that exist.

“It seems as if regardless of the culture or time period, there seems to be some form of authorization that emerges,” he added.

Schlegel’s biggest accomplishment would be when he was arrested about a year ago for an act of civil disobedience.

“Me and 26 other individuals were arrested outside of the courthouse of Tim DeChristopher’s sentencing,” he said.

DeChristopher, a climate activist, is co-founder of an environmental group called Peaceful Uprising. On Dec. 19, 2008, DeChristopher placed bids to obtain 14 parcels of land for $1.8 million in protest of an oil and gas lease auction. He was removed from the auction by federal agents, taken into custody and questioned. He was sentenced to two years of prison on July 26, 2011.

“We had gone into it with the idea of getting arrested,” Schlegel said. “It was a fun experience; it made me feel like I was a part of something bigger than I was so that was nice.” Although Schlegel did not have to spend the night in jail, he and other protestors were still arrested and had to be bailed out.

Schlegel has attended the Utah Pride Festival every year since he came out. He served as an intern for the Utah Pride Center and was largely responsible for the event planning of Queer Prom 2010. The prom, sponsored by the Utah Pride Center, is for LGBT couples between the ages of 14 and 20 who are not allowed to go to their prom. This event is held at the Salt Lake City library annually in April. In 2013, Queer Prom will be held on April 21.

Schlegel wants to finish his bachelor’s degree in musical theater at Weber State University and then he hopes to move to Chicago to pursue his career.

“I am also open to the idea of graduate school or applying to the Peace Corps later down the road. I suppose it all depends on how things play out,” he said.

Even though Schlegel has had to face difficult situations he has a positive mindset on life and tries to make the best of all of these challenges.

Schlegel added, “I’m just a person that is full of clichés so I tend to stay positive in life and I just think life is what you make of it so people should make the best of it.”

Coming out was the hardest thing that Schlegel has had to overcome in life, but it taught him a great deal.

“I can’t imagine my life any other way and in my regard I am grateful for the trials that I face,” Schlegel said. “It made me much more aware of the discrimination that exists throughout society and encouraged me to do something about it.”

How Mormonism shaped Salt Lake City gay activist Troy Williams

Story and slideshow by CONNOR WALLACE

See Troy Williams in action.

It is difficult to mention Troy Williams without bringing up his experiences with the Mormon Church and his activism in the gay community. But Williams, production and public affairs director at KRCL 90.9 FM, is better known for his role in the Salt Lake City Kiss-Ins.

Williams grew up in Eugene, Ore., where he was raised in the LDS church. Like others, he decided to go on a mission and was sent to England. Looking back, he says there were signs that he was gay.

“I pushed down my sexual desires in such a way that I channeled it into zealotry,” Williams said. “But it would creep out in interesting ways. I was on my mission from ’89 to ‘91, and I still broke the rules so that I could get the new Madonna CD that came out or the new Erasure CD, all this gay stuff, gay music. I remember teaching … and this family let us in to teach the first discussion. So here I am talking about Joseph Smith … and I see for the very first time on the television set the Madonna ‘Vogue’ video and all of the sudden I’m transfixed…. All I could do was watch.”

After returning home from his mission he was an intern with Utah’s chapter of the Eagle Forum. In Utah, The Eagle Forum is a religiously conservative anti-gay organization that focuses on affecting policy. Williams tried to deny his identity while there, but it kept bubbling to the surface. Since then he has maintained a cordial relationship with Gayle Ruzicka, the chapter’s president.

“I love Gayle Ruzicka and Gayle Ruzicka loves me, and she’ll tell anybody. Gayle always says ‘I have gay friends’ and ‘I’m not a homophobe’ … Well she’s talking about me and other people that she knows,” Williams said.

Although Williams cares for her, he acknowledges the negative impact she and former Utah State Senator Chris Buttars have had on equal rights. Both have succeeded in striking down legislation that would give the gay community more rights.

“Make no mistake, I don’t trivialize the damage that she’s done to LGBT families because it’s been horrific,” Williams said. “But on the flip side of that I think that Gayle and Chris Buttars and all these homophobic adversaries in Utah have really helped the LGBT community congeal to become stronger, to become more weathered. We’ve organized so much and a lot of it is due to the fierce opposition that we’ve had.”

Williams also points out that not only does this opposition help to make the community stronger, but it also helps each individual to feel more wanted.

“Salt Lake City is one of the easiest places to be a gay person,” Williams said. “It’s so easy to plug in to the community here. We just kind of take you in.”

After his time at the Eagle Forum, Williams reevaluated his life and became more entrenched in the gay community. He eventually landed at the local nonprofit indie-music radio station, KRCL, which debuted in 1979. It was one of the first to put gay people on air when it introduced “Concerning Gays and Lesbians” in the 1980s.

Williams has used KRCL as a type of conduit to help not only the gay community, but also the Salt Lake City public as well. “RadioActive” is a set of community features that explore the different issues concerning the Salt Lake Valley. “RadioActive” has moved from being a one-hour show on Sundays to a segment that is played each hour.

Vicki Mann is the general manager of KRCL, located at 1971 W. North Temple. She said Williams is vital to the station because he oversees the community connection features, fills in as a DJ when needed and is a hard worker.

“He really does whatever he needs to do,” Mann said. “He’s a roll-up-your-sleeves kind of guy.”

In 2009, Williams took the activism out of the radio booth and onto the doorstep of the Mormon Church. Two gay men were arrested for kissing on Temple Square. In response, Williams helped lead three Kiss-ins there. Although the events were in protest, one of the Kiss-ins ended up bringing him together with his current boyfriend.

“I had to lead the Kiss-ins but I didn’t have anybody to kiss until I scanned the crowd, and there was this adorable guy there. I actually just went down and grabbed him and pulled him up with me, and then the pictures were shot and then it ended up in the [Salt Lake] Tribune and then three and a half years later he’s been my boyfriend. When I go in and meet with [the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints], I’m always like ‘I want to thank you guys for helping me to hook up with my boyfriend because if it wasn’t for you arresting those two boys on the plaza I never would have met Josh,’” Williams said. “It’s fun to tease them about that a bit.”

Williams was in the spotlight again soon after his role in the Kiss-ins. He received a part on the “Colbert Report,” a satirical news show. He was also in “Tabloid,” a documentary about a woman who tried to seduce a Mormon away from his religion, and even met another famous Utahn.

“That was like the craziest week for me because I went and and shot the Colbert piece, and then I went to L.A. and did the … film the next day, and the third day I met with Roseanne Barr in a coffee shop and developed this deep friendship that I still have to this day,” he said.

Brandie Balken, director of Equality Utah, was a former co-host of “RadioActive” with Williams. Equality Utah is a civil rights organization that focuses on improving LGBTQ people’s lives through political action and educating the public about issues facing this community. Balken points out that there are more similarities than differences between Mormons and LGBTQ people.

“We share families, we share workplaces, we share neighborhoods, our kids go to the same schools,” Balken said. “There’s a lot of interface between these supposedly separate communities.”

Williams agrees and points to the group, Mormons Building Bridges. Members of the organization marched in June 2012 with Williams and Dustin Lance Black, the Academy Award-winning writer of the movie “Milk,” in the Utah Pride Festival Parade.

“We marched at the front of the Pride Parade with 300 active Mormons who, in their Sunday clothes, were marching to show their support for the LGBT community. That’s unprecedented, and it sparked Mormons marching in 10 different Pride parades across the summer, across the country,” Williams said. “This is such an exciting time. You can actually see the nation shifting on an issue and it’s happening so rapidly.”

Troy Williams continues his advocacy on behalf of the LGBTQ community and his work to improve relations with the LDS Church.

“I think without folks like Troy,” Balken said, “we are more likely to leave people behind.”

Salt Lake City band RaeRe combines soul with folk music

Story and slideshow by MADELINE SMITH

Meet the band at RaeRe’s rehearsal

Tanner Crawford gently plucks the strings on his cello. Cameron Jorgensen joins in on his bass drum mirroring Crawford’s rhythm while lightly tapping on the rim of his snare. Scotty Phillips’ soulful vocals fill in the rest of the sound as Fleetwood Mac’s “Landslide” rings through Crawford’s living room.

These three musicians make up RaeRe (pronounced “Ray-Ray”), a local Salt Lake City soulful folk band. Their unusual arrangement of instruments gives insight to the band’s personality.

The members of RaeRe attended Emery County High School, and all throughout, Phillips and Crawford played music together. Their first original song, “I’m a Vegan,” was written during their junior year.

They started writing songs first on the piano, and Crawford would then translate the notes onto the cello.

Crawford also plays an Appalachian dulcimer, a four-stringed instrument that is plucked or strummed, usually heard in bluegrass music. “Hope and Coffee” is currently RaeRe’s only song with the dulcimer.

Phillips struggled at singing with the cello at first, but he learned to sing on key, driven by his emotional connection to the instrument.

“The hardest thing about singing with a cello is that it’s not a typical instrument to sing with by itself,” Phillips said. “It’s usually an instrument that accompanies something else, like a piano.”

In the summer of 2011, Crawford and Phillips were ready to move on from a single accompanying instrument to a fuller sound, and asked Jorgensen to be their drummer.

Crawford and Jorgensen listen to similar genres of music so they thought he would be a good fit. As they practiced, they could feel the music click.

Jorgensen focuses on understanding the structure of the song, and sometimes practices on a full drum kit with cymbals. Occasionally, he’ll bring a hi-hat or crash cymbal onstage, but it doesn’t get more complex than that, he said.

“Adding more drums can easily lead me to overcomplicating my part, which is a huge disservice to the band and audience,” Jorgensen said. “People come to shows to listen, not watch.”

He uses mallets, rods, brushes and sticks to create a variety of tones that suit the mood of any song, he said.

Jorgensen doesn’t just play drums, however. He picked up the guitar in RaeRe’s songs “The Witch” and sometimes plays on “Yellow Daisy.”

“Playing with other bands, your guitarist will leave their guitar at your place and you can’t help but play it,” Jorgensen said.

The band members thought of finding a permanent guitarist, but adding another person with a sporadic schedule to work around seemed like too much of an obligation, Jorgensen said. Also, it would only add so much to a sound they’re already content with.

He said a benefit of having just one string instrument is that Crawford doesn’t have to match another person, and can follow his own formula to suit the atmosphere of Phillips’ lyrics.

Phillips sings about life experiences other people can connect to, such as lucid dreams or a favorite coffee shop.

“I like to write things that I know other people could possibly relate to because music is very special to me as a tool to help other people,” Phillips said.

His lyrics don’t only stem from happiness, however. He said he’s also motivated by hard times he’s been through and tries to create something special from the heart, hoping people will enjoy it.

“Inspiration doesn’t always mean it’s uplifting,” he said.

The mood of Phillips’ words dictates which instrument Crawford plays. Because the dulcimer has a limited range of notes, he uses the cello or piano on more dynamic songs, he said. Also, the cello is better suited for songs with a sad or angry tone.

Jorgensen bases his percussion part off Crawford’s arrangement to fit the overall feeling of the song they’re working on.

RaeRe rehearsed its only love song, “Like Blake,” in Crawford’s living room on Nov. 25, 2012, and even though Phillips isn’t in the same state of mind as when he wrote it, he still gets choked up, he said.

He sings about a past breakup and questions why the relationship didn’t last, after all he and Blake went through and how perfect they were for each other. In the chorus, Phillips references a novel written by Richard Bach about a seagull that is bored of its day-to-day life, titled “Jonathan Livingston Seagull.” It flies higher than the other seagulls and was, as Blake described Phillips, distinctly different.

As they performed this song in Crawford’s Salt Lake City apartment, each member’s eyes closed, and they subconsciously responded to each other’s playing.

“When three talented people care about what they do, a natural chemistry develops,” Phillips said.

Every time Phillips sings, he becomes the music, allowing the words to take control. This makes it easier to convey the emotion he felt when the lyrics were written, he said.

Crawford called it a performance blackout, where he loses himself in the music and doesn’t remember what happened while playing his instrument.

“It can only be achieved safely when you know your music,” he said.

RaeRe’s Audience

Not every member in the band is gay, but it identifies as queer.

Jorgensen said, “If people thought I was gay, I’d be OK with it.”

Phillips said, “There’s nothing specifically homosexual in our songs, but it’s who I am so it reflects in them.”

Even though he doesn’t sing about relationships often, Phillips said he’s not going to incorporate the word “female” as opposed to “male” to please people.

Crawford said despite how the band identifies, straight people hear their music and say, “’Whoa, I feel the same way,’” because they talk about emotions that are human, not specific to just one group of people.

RaeRe carries this theme of openness through its performances, and wants to break the invisible barrier between the musicians and audience.

Crawford said, “Just because we’re on the stage doesn’t mean we can’t interact with the crowd.”

Phillips likes to create a metaphorical sense of comfort while performing. He often sets up end tables and displays items from his house on top of them.

RaeRe’s stage presence is very casual, Jorgensen said. Most bands that have a cellist play in a formal sitting position, but Crawford tries not to look rigid. Jorgensen said they just get into the music.

RaeRe had its debut on July 31, 2012, opening for Jay Brannan at Kilby Court, 741 S. Kilby Court. Phillips, a fan of Brannan, said it was a dream come true.

The band’s second show was at Paper Moon, 3737 S. State St., with The Brian Bingham Band.

On Nov. 6, 2012, they opened again for The Brian Bingham Band, along with Chanda Charmayne at Urban Lounge, located at 241 S. 500 East.

Jorgensen said RaeRe’s audience is often pleasantly surprised about how full of a sound it delivers, despite not having a guitarist.

Phillips said, “Compliments never get old and they never go to my head.”

He recalled receiving a letter from a woman his mom works with, who had connected to RaeRe’s music. She specifically praised each musician, and said “Marilyn’s Song” helped her through a hard time.

Phillips saw her at a Smith’s grocery store and he said she was crying as she hugged him. He was astonished that his band’s music could impact a listener enough that they would be excited to see him.

“To be able to give someone help is the best thing you can do,” Phillips said.

After their performances, the members of the band watch videos recorded during their set. Phillips said it’s surreal to hear people singing along.

RaeRe is focusing on getting its music to new audiences using social media such as Facebook and YouTube.

“You just have to not be afraid to tell people what you’re doing,” Phillips said.

The guys are planning to play more shows in 2013, possibly with an onstage couch to accompany Phillips’ end tables and complete a full living room vibe, Crawford said. Until then, Phillips, Jorgensen and Crawford have a lot to prepare.

The band is getting ready to record its first EP, although it has enough material to record a full album. There are 25 to 30 original songs written, and RaeRe is always in the process of writing more.

“I woke up yesterday and wrote two songs,” Phillips said with a laugh.

Immigration and gay rights discussed at the University of Utah

Story and photos by CONNOR WALLACE

Immigration and gay rights are usually thought about as two separate topics. This becomes a problem when individuals are both immigrants and identify as being gay. A panel at the Hinckley Institute of Politics on Oct. 4, 2012, titled “Pride Has No Borders” discussed both immigrant and gay rights during the University of Utah’s Pride Week. The panel included immigration attorney Mark Alvarez; Utah AIDS Foundation Hispanic Outreach Coordinator Alex Moya; and Mariana Ramiro-Gomez, a staff member of the U’s LGBT Resource Center. The topics of gay and immigration rights are not only pressing in this state, but also on a federal level.

According to the organization Immigration Equality, in May 2012 Pres. Obama announced his support for same-sex marriage. His administration then created a “written guidance that will extend discretionary relief to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) immigrants with U.S. citizen spouses and partners.”

Even though important steps are being made toward immigration equality, it is still very unequal.

“Same sex couples are not able to apply for certain immigration benefits the way heterosexual couples would be able to,” Alvarez said at the panel discussion.

He said that even though the U.S. is a progressive country, other countries are farther ahead in gay rights.

“There’s sometimes a misimpression that Latinos are slow on LGBT issues. That’s not true. I lived in Spain,” Alvarez said. “Spain has marriage equality. Argentina has marriage equality. Colombia allows same-sex couples rights in immigrating.”

According to the Library of Congress, the Uniting American Families Act of 2011 hopes to “amend the Immigration and Nationality Act to include a ‘permanent partner’ within the scope of such Act. Defines a ‘permanent partner’ as an individual 18 or older who: (1) is in a committed, intimate relationship with another individual 18 or older in which both individuals intend a lifelong commitment; (2) is financially interdependent with the other individual; (3) is not married to, or in a permanent partnership with, anyone other than the individual; (4) is unable to contract with the other individual a marriage cognizable under this Act; and (5) is not a first, second, or third degree blood relation of the other individual.”  This act, if passed, would affect the lives of thousands of people in the U.S.

“There are 36,000 couples affected by the inability to apply for immigration benefits. This is according to the 2010 U.S. Census,” Alvarez said. “The Uniting American Families Act, which has been proposed before the Congress for a decade, would allow permanent partners to be sponsored for residence.”

Alex Moya’s main focus at the Utah AIDS Foundation is speaking with gay Spanish-speaking immigrant men about health promotion and HIV prevention. It is this kind of boundary crossing that shows the division between immigration rights and gay rights.

“I think in publications and the mainstream discourse we talk about straight immigration rights and in the gay movement we talk about white men who want marriage but we don’t talk about what happens in between,” Moya said at the panel.

In an interview with Moya, he said that gay marriage isn’t thought about the same way in the gay Hispanic immigrants as it is in the mainstream gay community.

Alex Moya sees a unique side of the gay marriage debate due to his work with gay Hispanic immigrants.

Alex Moya sees a unique side of the gay marriage debate due to his work with gay Hispanic immigrants.

“When mainstream citizens are talking about gay marriage as a right, sometimes that has a different meaning for the guys that I work with,” Moya said. “There’s the idea that yes we should care because if same-sex marriage is legal then there’s another way to gain the green card, but there are many that don’t want to get married to a citizen. So I think that the conversation about the rights of the LGBT people is sometimes a little bit different on what we’re looking for as immigrant Latino men.”

Moya, who graduated from the University of Utah, said information about the gay minority community is not taught in schools.

“I think education needs to change. I think I was here five years and most of the important learning about queer people of color I’ve done outside of this institution,” Moya said during the panel. “I think teachers who don’t decide to dedicate the last class to talk about queer issues or to talk about Latinos needs to happen. I don’t see why it is more important to teach about one culture or one race over the other. I think that it should be more balanced.”

Mariana Ramiro-Gomez works for the LGBT Resource Center at the U. She is originally from Mexico, and is a legal resident in the US. When she and her family applied for their green cards, she feared coming out to her parents would ruin her chances for legal residency.

“I didn’t know if [my mother] was going to kick me out or if she was going to disown me or if I would have a family, and ironically when I was coming out is when we were in the middle of the process of getting our green cards,” Ramiro-Gomez said. “I was afraid that they would not include me as part of the process and the paperwork to get my permanent residency.”

She hopes that laws will change to make gaining legal residency and moving from one country to another easier.

Mariana Ramiro-Gomez said that being gay and Hispanic means she has to censor her identities depending on which group she is with.

Mariana Ramiro-Gomez said that being gay and Hispanic means she has to censor her identities depending on which group she is with.

“Nature doesn’t stick to these arbitrary borders that we’ve placed upon it. So I do believe that anything and everything that’s living would freely transfer,” Ramiro-Gomez said. “Especially between Canada, US and Mexico there is NAFTA so all of our produce and all of our trade travels freely but our bodies cannot. Ideally, our bodies would be part of that transfer. Realistically, I would love to see some sort of legal path toward legalization where everyone who is here already who is undocumented would get access to a green card to at least be here temporarily, ideally permanently.”

Ramiro-Gomez said the fear of her partner being deported is ever present for her. She would have to choose between going back with her partner to Mexico, which would disqualify her from legal residency here, or she would have to stay here and hope that laws change to the point where her partner can come back to the US.

There is hope for change. The Uniting American Families Act is one such option that allows permanent partners to stay in the US. This, coupled with gay marriage being passed in nine states as well as the District of Columbia, shows signs of change coming sooner rather than later.

Gay male athletes are still seeking acceptance from coaches, teammates and fans

Story and photos by MATT ELLIS

Check out some sports venues in Salt Lake City.

In September 2012, Jamie Kuntz was kicked off of the North Dakota State football team after he was seen kissing his boyfriend.

When former NBA center John Amaechi came out as being gay in 2007, he was met with harsh words from the public and former NBA players alike.

Though current athletes, when asked, profess to support gay people and their right to participate in sports, the facts have shown that homosexuality in athletics is an issue that is far from being resolved for both players and fans.

Kuntz was sidelined with an injury when his team took the field against Snow College over Labor Day weekend and was filming the game from the press box. A teammate saw Kuntz kiss his 65-year-old boyfriend and told coaches, who confronted him on the bus ride home.

According to Kuntz, he initially lied about the situation, saying the man was his grandfather. He later felt guilty about deceiving his coaches and told the truth. He was officially kicked off the team for lying, not for being gay, even though there is no record of a player being disciplined in such a way for being dishonest.

In an interview with ESPN, Kuntz pointed out that if it had been an older woman with him in the press box he probably would have been congratulated by his teammates.

So if Kuntz had not lied in the beginning, would he still be on the football team? Was the lie simply an excuse to get an openly gay man off the North Dakota State football team?

An individual involved with the athletic department at Weber State University, who asked that his name not be used, offered his opinion.

“Obviously I’m not familiar with their policies or how they run their program, but it would have been interesting to see what would have happened had the athlete not told a lie,” he said. “It sounds to me like an excuse to basically ostracize an openly gay athlete, but we can never know for sure.”

He added that he thought most of the American public would probably say that they support gay peoples’ right to participate in athletics but that “when the rubber meets the road,” few of them would support what they said with their actions.

Several surveys done by different news outlets would seem to support this theory.

In a survey done by NBC/USA Network of 979 randomly-selected people, 86 percent of those surveyed disagreed with the statement, “openly gay athletes should be excluded from playing team sports,” and 61 percent agreed that “homosexuality is a way of life that should be accepted by society.”

But in the same survey, 68 percent of those surveyed agreed that “it would hurt an athlete’s career to be openly gay.”

A student-athlete at the University of Utah, who also asked not to be named, thinks it has to do with the common stereotype of the gay man.

“A lot of people think of a gay guy as really feminine or almost dainty-like,” he said. “Most men in sports don’t really fit that description, so it’s like an inconsistency that’s maybe hard to wrap their mind around.”

He said there was an athlete in his high school who was openly gay, and that didn’t sit well with a lot of people who shared the same locker room.

Many people feared they might attract unwanted attention from the gay teammate during private activities, the athlete said.

“It was weird to be in the same locker room or in the same shower situation with someone of your same gender who might be interested in you sexually,” he said. “I know there were guys who complained to coaches and stuff to do something about it.”

That sentiment was echoed by Tim Hardaway in 2007 when he learned that John Amaechi had come out to the public.

On Miami sports radio station WAXY-AM, Hardaway insisted that he would never want a gay man to play on the same team. If it were to happen, he said he would actively distance himself from that individual because he didn’t think it right that they share the same locker room.

Lebron James, also in reaction to Amaechi’s announcement, said in an interview with ESPN that having gay teammates would be an issue of trust. If a gay athlete hasn’t come out to his teammates, then he isn’t being completely honest and, according to James, can’t be counted as trustworthy.

But if that athlete were to come out, according to James’ reasoning, they should be fully accepted by both coaches and team members.

History has shown that it isn’t always that easy.

Glenn Burke was an outfielder in the MLB for the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Oakland Athletics during the late 1970s. Though the general public wouldn’t know of his sexual orientation until years later, he discreetly came out to his teammates and was met with hostility.

The abuse, both verbal and physical, eventually forced him to retire from baseball after only three years in the majors, which Burke later said was much earlier than he would have liked.

A European soccer player named Justin Fashanu also came out during his playing career. He was, at one time, one of the premier footballers in England andwas the first black man to command a £1 million signing fee.

After coming out he faced homophobic slurs from teammates, fans and even his own manager, which many point to as the reason his performance dropped off toward the end of his career.

As a black man he faced racist remarks on a regular basis, according to Peter Tatchell, a British human rights campaigner. But it was the homophobic variety which many, including Tatchell, say were the ones that got to him.

In 1998, amid allegations of sexual assault, Fashanu took his own life.

Michael Star, who does a weekly political podcast out of Rochester Hills, Mich., regularly speaks on LGBT issues with guests, both political and non-political. He said it is a part of who we are to resist changes in what we perceive as normal.

“Humans naturally want to believe that what we are doing is right,” Star said. “We sort of have an inclination to subjugate those who do things differently because we want to think that our way is the best way. So even though the individual may want to be quote-unquote ‘progressive,’ it’s a slow process because you’re almost going against human nature.”

As many have done before, Star compared the gay athletes’ situation to that of African-Americans during the Civil Rights movement. He believes that change is coming, but that it takes time for the masses to accept the transformation.

In the meantime, gay athletes’ fear of being in the open will persist.

“These athletes have a legitimate fear that life as they know it will change,” the WSU athletics representative said. “When you come out, you’re putting a target on your back that’s impossible to hide. It’s there for everyone to see.”

2012 election results give LGBT community hope

Story and photo by DAYLAN JONES

“To achieve change, it takes multiple approaches.”
Two women hold hands to show strength and unity for a cause

“To achieve change, it takes multiple approaches,” explains Brandie Balken, executive director of Equality Utah.

Balken compares the inequality the LGBT community faces right now to the Civil Rights Movement. People were treated differently by others simply because of the way they were born. African-Americans eventually achieved equal rights and changed history.

Kari Ellingson, associate vice president for student affairs at the University of Utah, said, “There is a lot of unawareness. The more people become aware, the harder it is to discriminate…. Once you begin to recognize you know LGBT people and like them, the more you see them as people and that’s when legislation starts to change.”

Equality Utah is the state’s largest advocacy and policy organization for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community.

According to an Equality Utah email sent after Election Day, “YOU made this possible! … Thanks to you — our volunteers and supporters, we have accomplished so much to elect pro-equality candidates and build support for statewide nondiscrimination in employment and housing!”

The email also noted progress across the country for the LGBT community. Voters in Maryland, Maine and Minnesota passed same-sex marriage, the first openly gay senator was elected into office and the first president ever to endorse marriage equality was re-elected.

Equality Utah and the LGBT community have taken steps forward in Utah in recent years. According to the website, “In 2008 Equality Utah passed a bullying and hazing bill that created a statewide definition of bullying and hazing and outlines the minimum standards for bullying and hazing policies in local districts and charter schools. In 2010 Equality Utah added cyber bullying and verbal harassment to the list of prohibited behaviors.”

Most recently in 2012, in collaboration with the political election, Equality Utah released this statement: “‘It’s Utah’s time to lead!’ Last night we saw that the LGBT voice carries real power. Where are we headed next? The 2013 legislative session where we can, and we will, lead the nation by ending discrimination for LGBT Utahns and their families in workplace and housing.”

Equality Utah is constantly striving to look forward for a better tomorrow and has 21 “Equality”-endorsed Utah elected officials who it believes will join the organization in the fight for civil rights.

One of the  fights Equality Utah is winning is with bullying in schools. This is a major problem, one that parents can’t truly protect their child or children from. Balken said that when she was a child, bullying wasn’t as bad as it is today because she got to go home and escape it.

But these days, children can’t escape it because technology is everywhere. Cell phones and social media are constant for the younger generation. This makes the cyberbullying issue that much more crucial to stop in its tracks. Balken said the bullying and hazing bill that was passed will help make a difference in people’s lives; individuals want to live as normal of a life as possible while being treated equally.

“Equality means all of us” is the underlying theme that keeps her going. Balken said the LGBT community is facing more than just unequal marriage rights today. Some of the other obstacles include being unable to visit one’s partner in the hospital.

According to a 2011 poll of Utahns released by the Human Rights Campaign, “Seventy percent of respondents said they know someone who is gay or lesbian and 42 percent said their feelings about LGBT people have become more accepting over the last five to 10 years. (Seven percent said they have become less accepting.)”

Kari Ellingson said, “It’s important to recognize victories when you have victories, even if they seem small. The LGBT community made progress through this election nationwide. Here in Utah they received some hard knocks last session yet, they know it is important to keep standing up for things that matter.”

Pride Week at the University of Utah, a ‘top-25’ LGBT-friendly school

Story and photos by DAYLAN JONES

Pannel style discussion at the Hinkley Institute, Oct 4, 2012

Panel discussion at the Hinkley Institute of Politics, Oct. 4, 2012.

The University of Utah was named one of the top 25 most LGBT-friendly colleges and universities in the U.S. by Campus Pride in August 2012. The ranking gave the U something else to celebrate during the annual Pride Week celebration, held Oct. 1-5, 2012.

The rankings are based on data from the Campus Pride Index, which rates colleges and universities on things such as LGBT-friendly policies.

The U received high scores in all categories but LGBT Housing and Residence Life, where it scored a 3.5 of 5 stars.

“We are currently working towards that with the housing department and other necessary departments to have that by the fall [of 2013],” said Kai Medina-Martínez, director of the LGBT Resource Center at the U.

“It’s a good thing,” Medina-Martínez said about the publicity. “When the list came out the major news outlets contacted us, the U’s webpage acknowledged us, and in addition to the school, it’s a really good thing for the state.”

The Pride Week panel at the Hinckley Institute of Politics, Oct. 4, 2012.

The Pride Week panel at the Hinckley Institute of Politics, Oct. 4, 2012.

Pride Week has a different focus or theme every year to educate students and the public about issues in the LGBT community. This year’s theme was “Pride Has No Borders.”

The panel, “Pride Has No Borders: Immigration,” held Oct. 4 at the Hinkley Institute of Politics, focused on the challenges lesbians and gays of color face as they apply for immigration, get jobs and try to make a difference.

“As a woman of color and an immigrant myself I can connect with this,” said Valeria Moncada, a student who attended the panel. “It hurts my heart to see the hardships and unfairness we as people of this country place on immigrants. Immigrants as individuals are treated unfairly but because you are LGBT, you have less rights than a traditional immigrant.”

Pride Week also featured fun events. The Drag Show was a hit and gave new insight to one student. Madeline Smith commented on the “feisty” performers and “huge variety of looks and performances.”

The show, also Oct. 4, was held at Sugar Space in Salt Lake City. “My favorite performance was Klaus von Austerlitz,” Smith said. “He lip-synced to ‘Call Me Maybe,’ but mixed the song so it would change from the original song to a really creepy version and he would dance accordingly. He walked out all stiff like a doll and had 666 written on his hand so every time it said ‘here’s my number…’ he pointed to his hand.”

Smith, who was attending her first drag show, said she was “in awe at how Klaus fought the stereotype that all drag queens have to have fake boobs [and] wear heels…. He creeped out the crowd but everyone loved him.”

Sterling Anderson, a gay student at the U said about Pride Week, “I feel like I can be myself, and accepted for who I am on this campus. I don’t feel I have to hide my status and know I will be respected in that aspect. I feel very fortunate.”

pinkdot events come to Utah, by way of Singapore

Story and slideshow  by CHAD MOBLEY

Experience the pinkdot events.

While locked out of her office and waiting on an uncomfortable orange couch for someone to let her in, Valerie Larabee, director of the Utah Pride Center, got started on another busy day by going through emails on her smart phone. Little did she know, she would soon open a message that could effectively spark a revolution for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community nationwide.

The email, from a man she had never met face to face, contained a YouTube video of an event that took place in Singapore in 2009. It was a powerful visual representation of an extravagant affair that encouraged people to gather in celebration of love — love between all people, regardless of sexual orientation. This celebration was the first of its kind worldwide.

The pinkdot events provide a venue for straight people to come out and publicly display their support of their friends, family members and complete strangers who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. It is a family-friendly celebration with live entertainment, celebrity appearances, refreshments and fun for all people. All races, sexual orientations, genders, religions and ages are invited to attend.

“I saw the video and I immediately knew that we had to do this,” Larabee said. “We had to start doing this here in the US. We particularly needed to start it here in Utah because our big challenge here is getting straight parents to understand that they too could have a gay kid. It’s very likely that they have a gay person in their lives and we would hope that the love that they have for them is enough for them to come out and be visible in their support of them.”

Larabee and her colleagues got to work that day in the fall of 2011.

They instantly envisioned a national phenomenon, so one of the initial steps was purchasing the web addresses for pinkdot in each state; PinkDotUtah.org was the first they acquired. Next they created a task force, called the Support Love Courage Council, whose only objective is planning the pinkdot Utah events. After that, they had to execute the project.

The first pinkdot Utah public celebration occurred in 2011 in Salt Lake City. Another was held in September 2012. Both had more than 2,000 participants.

The most recent event happened in St. George, Utah, on Nov. 3, 2012. It was the first pinkdot to be held outside of Salt Lake City since the celebrations were launched in the United States.

“We were the first permitted public gay event in St. George,” Larabee said. “Pinkdot got covered in their paper, which was amazing. That’s what we are striving for, is to come out and be visible.”

Ken Kimball is the man who sent Larabee the email that ignited the campaign. Since then, he has been at the helm of the Support Love Courage Council as the project lead.

“It’s amazing that it even got through her filter because she gets thousands of emails,” Kimball said. “I sent her the video and Valerie wrote back, ‘You wanna play?'”

Kimball grew up LDS in Utah, but moved away after graduating from Brigham Young University because, he said, he knew he was gay.  He spent the next 20 years living in cities across the country, including Los Angeles; Austin and Dallas, Texas; and Tampa and Miami, Fla. Fifteen of those years he spent with his husband, Miguel. As they prepared to move back to Utah, he said they were scared.

Kimball’s roots within the LDS faith go back to the foundation of the Mormon Church. His ancestors were among the first four Mormon families to come to Utah.

“There might be families that have as much time in the LDS church, but nobody has more heritage than me,” he said.

With that heritage comes a rift within his own family. Kimball is the third oldest of nine siblings.

“I have some siblings that are fully accepting, my parents are really accepting … and I have siblings that won’t let their kids interact with me,” Kimball said. “There’s nieces and nephews I don’t even know.”

In a state that is predominantly Mormon, Kimball and the rest of the 18-member Support Love Courage Council thought it was paramount to craft the pinkdot events in a way that could include all religions. Kimball said he thinks about his family’s inclusion with every decision he makes.

“We didn’t want it to be a political statement. We didn’t want it to be a statement about marriage equality. There were a lot of things we didn’t want pinkdot to be about,” Kimball said. “[Mormon] theology and what they talk about is being loving, being supportive and being caring for all people. So it’s a message of inclusion and celebration by those individuals.”

Events are family-friendly and alcohol-free in an effort to ensure that everyone feels comfortable and welcome.

Ann Clark, a straight ally on the board for the Support Love Courage Council, is one person helping to maximize inclusion in the pinkdot events.

“I’m a parent. I want to show my children that we’re all the same,” Clark said in a phone interview. “I think that’s something as well, that’s why we try to aim for family-friendly.”

Clark became an ally not because she has a gay family member, not because she has a lesbian friend, but because she said she doesn’t understand why people are separated by whom they choose to love. Before joining the Support Love Courage Council, Clark worked on planning the Utah Pride Festival and subsequently became a member of Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG).

She understands the importance of holding pinkdot events in large metropolitan areas like Salt Lake City, but feels the events can have a bigger impact on smaller communities, like St. George.

“I think it’s almost more important than doing it here [in Salt Lake City],” Clark said. “I’m an ally and we have a really strong ally backing in Salt Lake City. It’s almost a necessity [in rural places] because there’s not as much acceptance and not as much outreach…. If you put it in communities where more people can join together and watch that acceptance, that’s an important thing.”

Spreading these events across the country has been a slow process, but it is gaining momentum. Kathy Godwin, Mountain West regional director of PFLAG, said in an email how her organization is helping spread the word.

“We use email, we distribute fliers, we get our members to each bring at least one friend,” Godwin said. “It is a simple as that to begin. Outside of Utah, PFLAG does try to report on Facebook, the national PFLAG blog, etc. This builds awareness of this event and the purpose outside of our community. The power of social media.”

The goal of the Support Love Courage Council is to generate awareness of pinkdot Utah events until every state holds its own celebration. It wants to see these events in major cities and smaller rural communities as well. Groups in Florida and New Mexico, among other states, have formally expressed interest in holding their own pinkdot events in the near future. However, Ken Kimball hopes to see a day that these events are no longer necessary.

“I hope that someday the whole pinkdot concept is irrelevant,” Kimball said. “The support, the love and the courage is to love people for who they are. Hopefully it will become something that we don’t need to talk about, that people just do, but we’re not there yet.”

University of Utah named one of top-25 LGBT friendly university and colleges

Story and photos by KOURTNEY COMPTON

The University of Utah received a near-perfect ranking in every category in a study announced on Aug. 21, 2012, by the Huffington Post in partnership with Campus Pride. Campus Pride is a national nonprofit organization for student leaders and campus groups working to create safer, more inclusive LGBT-friendly colleges and universities.

The Campus Pride rankings are based on questionnaires submitted voluntarily by students, faculty and staff at 339 U.S. colleges and universities. The questionnaire addresses issues on LGBT-inclusive policies, housing, academic life, health and counseling, faculty, recruitment and retention, and other categories.

“Praise and accolades are deserved for these top 25 colleges and universities,” Campus Pride executive director Shane Windmeyer said in a press release. “Every student deserves to feel safe on campus, and all of these colleges are committed to creating a more LGBT-friendly campus.”

The lowest ranking the U received was a 3.5 out of 5 in the housing and residence life category. Currently there is no designated housing on campus that is listed as gender-neutral, which could have impact on the rating.

LGBT life was not always this way in colleges, and this ranking is a statement of growth, work and effort of the campus, its staff, faculty, and students alike.

Kai Medina-Martínez, the director of the U’s LGBT Resource Center who identifies with the pronoun they, said the U received a low rating for its housing policy. They said the U doesn’t allow students to self-select a roommate of the opposite sex.

Medina-Martinez said the LGBT Center is working with the Housing and Residential Center to create more inclusive housing policies.

The computers available to students at the LGBT Resource Center.

The computers available to students at the LGBT Resource Center.

“We want to stay away from the word tolerance, we aim for acceptance,” they said. “The more we can breakdown the myths about us, such as, we want to recruit people or we are out to destroy the traditional family, the more people can be less threatened and more open.”

Many colleges have LGBT organizations as well as departments dedicated to the fair treatment of all students, such as the LGBT Resource Center at the U, which is located in the Olpin Student Union.

“There is a large lounging area that the students utilize,” Medina-Martínez said. “Right now we have four computers that students can use to do papers or study and we also allow students to do 10 free copies a day.”

The LGBT Resource Center also holds an event called “Fabulous Fridays,” every Friday between 3 p.m. and 5 p.m. for students to socialize, eat snacks and play games.

“College is about preparing people to navigate many different environments and interact with many different people, it is consistent,” Medina-Martinez said.  This leads to many LGBT individuals taking this opportunity to fully explore themselves and realize who they are.

Mural located in the LGBT Resource Center.

Mural located in the LGBT Resource Center.

Travis Nguyen, an openly gay student at the U, said, “It’s definitely easier for me at the U. In high school and during my freshman year at Dixie [State College], no one knew that I was bisexual. I just felt I didn’t have enough strength to put myself out there and deal with it then. It was also easier in college because I knew that once my mom found out she wouldn’t be happy and at least I wouldn’t be living in her house. At the U the people are more mature and open minded to the people and things around them. Basically it’s just a whole lot easier.”

The LGBT Resource Center hosted Pride Week, Oct. 1-5, 2012. The theme was, “Pride has no Borders.”

Nguyen added, “The University of Utah hold a lot of gay and lesbian events all over campus. Here I can be who I want to be.”

%d bloggers like this: