QUEER VOICES

In Conservative Utah, Salt Lake City Takes Another Stand For LGBT Rights -- With Harvey Milk Tribute

The city council voted unanimously to rename a street after the pioneering gay leader, located blocks away from the headquarters of the Mormon church.
A pride flag flies in front of the Historic Mormon Temple in Salt Lake City. This week, the city council voted unanimously to
A pride flag flies in front of the Historic Mormon Temple in Salt Lake City. This week, the city council voted unanimously to rename a street, located just blocks away from the church, after gay rights pioneer Harvey Milk.

The majority of Utah’s residents are Mormon, and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) has been vocal in its opposition of same-sex marriage and homosexuality. Yet, in Salt Lake City, described as “a blue dot in a deep-red state,” the needle has been moving on LGBT issues.

In January, Utah’s capital made history by swearing in the state’s first openly gay mayor. The city's second sitting gay councilman was sworn in the same day.

Now, Salt Lake City is taking another stand for LGBT rights -- this time, naming a street after gay rights advocate Harvey Milk.

On Tuesday, the city council voted unanimously to rename 900 South after the pioneering community leader. The council announced the news on Twitter:

Stan Penfold, who became Salt Lake City’s first openly gay councilman in 2010, sponsored the resolution to rename the street. He said the change would reflect Salt Lake City’s commitment to inclusion and its continuing struggle to achieve LGBT equality.

“Harvey Milk imagined a brave world where everybody -- everybody -- had value and civil rights,” said Penfold, according to KSTU-TV. “I like to imagine that world, too.” 

Harvey Milk became the first openly gay person to be elected to public office in the U.S. when he won a seat on San Francisco
Harvey Milk became the first openly gay person to be elected to public office in the U.S. when he won a seat on San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors in 1977. This week, the Salt Lake City Council voted to rename a street in honor Milk, who was assassinated in 1978.

On Tuesday, Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski congratulated Penfold and the LGBT rights group Equality Utah on the successful name change.

According to The Associated Press, Harvey Milk Boulevard will be located nine blocks from the headquarters of the Mormon church headquarters. Mormon leadership has been clear on its position regarding homosexuality, which the LDS church considers a sin. It recently banned baptisms for the children of gay parents, and threatened to excommunicate members who entered into same-sex marriages. 

Earlier this year, however, Biskupski said she would be pressuring the LDS church on its anti-LGBT policies.

“Salt Lake City has always been much more progressive than the rest of the state, even though we have a very conservative home base here for the LDS Church,” Biskupski told SiriusXM Progress. “I think as a community, though, what we’re finding with my election is that there just are not the barriers that the country maybe thinks there are with the LDS Church being located in our city. So, those relationships just continue to evolve in a very progressive and positive way and I’m pleased with that.”

Salt Lake City is hardly the only example of a liberal city wedged inside a deeply-conservative state. Last week, The New York Times described the clash of social ideals now seen in many Southern cities, spanning from Durham to Dallas.

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