“Our Rights to Claim”, LGBT Utah ROARS for SB100

By Troy Williams

photo by David Newkirk

photo by David Newkirk

I love to see large crowds of LGBT Utahns taking their rightful place in the People’s House. We belong in the Utah State Capitol. That is exactly what the 2014 Legislative session has been all about; boldly claiming our place.

The Capitol 13 returned to the Rotunda, and this time we invited a few of our friends. Our objective was to raise our collective voice and roar for SB100.

Troy Williams by Rick Bowmer, AP

Troy Williams by Rick Bowmer, AP

Salt Lake Tribune Coverage

Deseret News Coverage

ABC4 Coverage

Associated Press Coverage

This is our House. Now and forever. We are never going back in the closet.

Matthew Landis said it best, “These are not their rights to give us — ‘they’ being the people in power. These are our rights to claim for ourselves.”

Matthew Landis by David Newkirk

Matthew Landis by David Newkirk

Our presence was a reminder to Legislators that the LGBT community will not be denied our birthright as Utahns or Americans.  The longer our rights are denied, the louder we will become.

Thankfully, our roars did bring out a few Legislators. Several supportive Democrats joined us in the Rotunda, of course. And it was heartening to see a conservative lawmaker or two curiously watching our rally from the third floor — including Mike Noel (R-Kanab).

Rep. Mike Noel (R-Kanab) Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune

Rep. Mike Noel (R-Kanab) Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune

Another purpose of our rally was to challenge the Legislature’s false narrative about LGBT and religious liberty. Active Mormon and Capitol 14 member, Angela Isaacs locked arm in arm with lesbian Gail Murdoch to deliver her moving speech. Their message challenged Senator Stuart Reid’s assertion that religious liberty can never co-exist with LGBT non-discrimination.

Angela assured the crowd, “Anyone who says my religion and LGBT rights cannot coexist does not speak for me. My faith tells me that all are alike unto God.”

Angela and Gail by David Andreason

Angela and Gail by David Andreason

Matt Glade, Deseret News

Matt Gade, Deseret News

Mormons Building Bridges also had a strong visible presence of support at the rally. Clearly, there are many people whose faith includes acknowledging the dignity and humanity of their LGBT friends and family.

Sen Urquhart and MBB by by Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune

Sen Urquhart and MBB by by Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune

Gail Turpin,  who we now dubbed, “The Most Dangerous Woman in Utah”, electrified the crowd with her bold and loving speech. As a grandmother and straight ally, she is a fierce witness to Gloria Steinem’s famous axiom; women grow more radical with age.

Gail Turpin by David Andreason

Gail Turpin by David Andreason

Owen Smith also spoke eloquently about his experiences being denied access to rental properties multiple times because of his gender identity. He gave a passionate appeal to the crowd to carry on the work after the rally was done.

Owen Smith, photo by Gregory Enke

Owen Smith, photo by Gregory Enke

Saysia Taylor, our ten-year old diva in the making, charmed the crowd with her sing-a-long performance of Katy Perry’s ROAR. Ethan Johnson from the American Fork Gay-Straight Alliance also gave us hope for the next generation.

Saysia Taylor by Matt Gade, Deseret News

Saysia Taylor by Matt Gade, Deseret News

Senators Steve Urquhart and Jim Dabakis brought the rally home with the promise that we were all going to cross the finish line together.

Sen. Jim Dabakis by Matt Gade, Deseret News

Sen. Jim Dabakis by Matt Gade, Deseret News

Well, did we do any good this session?

Despite all of our best efforts, the Senate leadership refused to bring SB100 to be heard. They simply didn’t care about our lobbying, our testimonies, our rallies or ultimately our voices.

Why?

Because we are winning. Make no mistake. Our opponents see where the nation is headed. They are frustrated with our victories. And possibly, they are even scared that the world they’ve always known is crumbling. Gay marriage bans have been overturned in Utah, Texas, Oklahoma and Kentucky. Attorney Generals in several states are now refusing to defend their bans. The Right’s effort to assert “religious liberty” as a shield for continued discrimination has been effectively trounced by both the Arizona governor, national Republican leaders and the majority of our nation. For some, it’s demoralizing. For others it’s possibly a frightening sign of the End Days.

Sharing the freedoms of America is nothing anyone should fear. When liberty is expanded, we all benefit from it’s largesse. There is plenty to go around.

As an LGBT American, you have every reason to hope. You have every reason to be proud of your accomplishments. Utah’s LGBT family is growing in strength and conviction.

Equality Utah and Senator Jim Dabakis have been a tremendous force building coalitions and advocating for our cause.  They are changing the conversation on Capitol Hill. Brandie Balken has assembled a great team that has become a non-stop phone banking machine. They are now training people to help pack our neighborhood caucuses with equality minded delegates. They are committed to changing the face of the Legislature.

photo by David Newkirk

Brandi Balken, photo by David Newkirk

Our arrest also had positive outcomes. We created the opening for a historic first time meeting between Republican Legislators, the Lieutenant Governor Spencer Cox  and LGBT Utahns. The Capitol 13 broke what had become a stalemate. The issue was dead until we agitated for change. Conservative lawmakers finally, reluctantly, agreed to a request by Senator Dabakis, Senator Urquhart and Equality Utah to meet with gay and transgender Utahns. They were able to hear stories of discrimination first hand. It may have even been the first time many of them have knowingly spoken with members of our community. Even fierce anti-equality advocates like Senator Stuart (I Can Never Co-Exist with Gays) Reid, sat quietly through the testimonies. Many tears were shed. Even by Republicans. We are no longer an abstraction to these lawmakers. We are flesh and blood Utahns. They know us now.

photo by David Newkirk

LGBT Hearing photo by David Newkirk

photos by David Newkirk

Personally, what may have encouraged me the most this session are the new faces I am meeting. Everyday I receive an email, tweet or Facebook message from young LGBT men and women who are ready to take up the fight. They are fired up. They are coming out to rallies for their first time. They are ready to take their place as the next generation of LGBT heroes. Our community is engaged, active and ready to do what is needed to claim our rights.

So, what’s next?

It’s essential that we keep the fire lit. If you were energized by our rally, consider taking on these next steps;

1) Volunteer with Equality Utah to phone-bank.

2) Sign up with Equality Utah and become a delegate in your neighborhood caucus to select LGBT friendly candidates. This happens this month, so jump on this quick!

3) Write a letter to the editor or an op-ed in support of SB100 to papers with conservative readership (DesNews, Daily Herald, et al).

4) Volunteer with the Utah Pride Center, the local HRC Utah or Ogden OUTreach.

5) Send supportive Legislators a letter of thanks and your personal story.

6) Send non-supportive Legislators your personal story.

7) Donate to Restore Our Humanity’s legal fund for the Amendment 3 fight.

And most importantly,

8) Come out to family, friends, co-workers, neighbors and strangers and share your personal story.  Nothing changes hearts faster.

Donna Weinhotlz emcees, by Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune

Donna Weinholtz Roars, by Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune

Michelle Turpin by Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune

Michelle Turpin by Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune

Thank you all for everything that you are doing in our community.

Remember, these are not their rights to give us. These are our rights to claim.

And what are these rights? Nothing less than;

1) equal protection under the law, 2) the right of due process and 3) equal access to public accommodations.

That’s it.

And guess what? We want religious people to enjoy these same rights, liberties and protections as well! It’s a big win-win.

See how easy that is?

Culture War Over.

by Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune

by Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune

SB 100 by Matt Gade, Deseret News

SB 100 by Matt Gade, Deseret News

Posted in Uncategorized

SB100 ROAR, March 5th, Capitol Rotunda

by Troy Williams

We’re not done yet!

Salt Lake City, On Wednesday, March 5th at 12:30pm, “The Capitol 13” return to the Utah State Capitol and they are bringing friends.  Although the Senate Majority leadership has refused to hear SB100, the LGBT Community has a message to share with Governor Herbert and the entire Utah Legislature;

“You’re Gonna Hear Us Roar!”

The LGBT community will gather at the Capitol Rotunda again in an effort to revitalize our democracy. Though 72 percent of Utah supports a statewide anti-discrimination law that protects LGBT individuals, the legislation continues to meet Senate initiated roadblocks. This collapse of the democratic process inspired 13 activists to direct action last month, leading to their arrest.

Event organizer Troy Williams said, “We can’t wait another year for the Senate leadership to catch up with the rest of the state. These protections are our birthright as Americans. We want SB100 heard this session. The LGBT community will not rest until this bill becomes law.”

Referencing Senator Stuart Reid’s recent comments that religious liberty and LGBT non-discrimination can never co-exist, active Latter-day Saint and arrested Capitol 13 member Angela Isaacs declares, “Anyone who says my religion and LGBT rights cannot coexist does not speak for me. My faith tells me that all are alike unto God.”

Speakers will include SB 100 sponsor, Senator Steve Urquhart, Owen Smith from Equality Utah, Capitol 13 members Matthew Landis, Gail Turpin and Angela Isaacs. We will also hear Ethan Johnson from the American Fork Gay Straight Alliance and Senator Jim Dabakis.

There will also be 30 “peaceful witnesses” present who will spend the remainder of the day at the Capitol.  Their presence throughout the Capitol halls and chambers will serve as a witness that the LGBT community remains engaged in this work for the long haul.

From the very public display of posting blue “Hear SB100” notes to the Senate Chamber doors, to the arrests of the Capitol 13 and the subsequent town hall testimonies of LGBT Utahns, it is a new day for LGBT activism. Our presence at the Capitol has never been bolder and we are never going away.

Screen Shot 2014-02-26 at 11.35.40 AM

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , ,

Justice Delayed? We Are Not Guilty.

by Troy Williams

We were arrested, strip searched, finger-printed, booked and ordered to appear to Justice Court on Feb. 24th. The Capitol 13 arrived early Monday morning, all sharply dressed, ready to plead “not guilty”. And we would have had the State Troopers actually filed the necessary paper work.

The Capitol 13 by David Newkirk

The Capitol 13 by David Newkirk

Was this a delaying tactic to move this out of the public eye until the Legislature is over? We can only speculate. But the LGBT community knows what it feels like to be dismissed and ignored.  The Utah Legislature and our governor have been doing that for years.  Which only means we need to roar louder. We are tentatively scheduled to return to court in 30 days, where we will again hear the charges against us and make our plea.

by David Newkirk

by David Newkirk

Until then, it is critical that the Legislature know that we are not going away. We are planning another big rally at the Capitol on March 5th at 12:30 and we want you to be there to raise your voice. We need to restore democracy in Utah. You don’t need to get arrested to make a stand. You just need to take a stand.  We need the Legislators and the governor to recognize that we are never going back into the closet, we are never going to be silent and we are never going to stop fighting for our rights.

Details are coming soon!

Here is the Tribune coverage of today.

And FOX 13 Coverage

And here is the copy of my speech this morning:

photo by David Newkirk

photo by David Newkirk

The basis of our government is to allow for the voice of the people to be heard.  We understand that with the give and take of any democracy, sometimes you win and sometimes you lose. What we found to be unconscionable was the arrogant plot of the republican senate majority leaders who shut down any public input and through a closed door, star chamber meeting, made the decision to slam the door on any type of public hearing or process on SB 100. 

These actions by our Republican Senate Majority leaders are clear evidence that the democratic process in Utah has failed. This is what led the 13 of us to follow a long, proud American heritage of peaceful, civil disobedience. We did what we did with the hope of making our state a better place to live and for that, we will never plead guilty. 

The pioneers traveled thousands of miles to start a new life here in the beautiful valley. They fled their homes because state government failed to protect them. When they got here, they promised that all citizens of our new state should always be heard. One-hundred and nineteen years after “We the People” was written in our state constitution, the current Utah Legislature is breaking our founders’ promise.

The voices of Utah’s supermajority have been shut out. 72% of Utahans favor non-discrimination in housing and employment, but the legislature refuses to schedule any public hearing. Our democratic process failed us and we decided that our voices must be heard.

We are not guilty of disturbing the legislature because we were defending ourselves, defending our home, and defending the principles our great state was founded on. We stand here today to lay claim to the blessings of our nation – to claim the rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.  This is our birthright as Americans. We will never rest until every LGBT Utahan enjoys these protections. 

Thank you.

Posted in Uncategorized

Arizona Introduces the New Gay Jim Crow

by Troy Williams

f7e0e8963f838f32f574e93afad02f1d9e8a347deaef09cd8e76c44cbd9701e8The Arizona Legislature has cooked up a new gay version of Jim Crow.  Remember high school history class? Remember learning about the ugly segregation laws that were designed to keep Southern blacks inferior to whites? We thought that vicious part of American history was behind us. We thought we had evolved. But apparently not yet.

Arizona has passed a new law that resurrects Jim Crow tactics, albeit this time with a queer twist. If Governor Jan Brewer signs it into law, religiously minded Arizonians will be able to put up a sign that says, “No Gays Served Here”.  Quite simply, Arizona politicians are using their faith as a smokescreen to legitimize formal discrimination against queer people they don’t like. Further, they want to codify discrimination into state law.  Who knows where this will end? Some argue that not only will this law be applied to gay people, it could also again target people of color, other religions and maybe single mothers.

Hell, it could even be used by a Christian to discriminate against a Mormon.

I grew up in a religious household. And I can’t imagine Jesus Christ ever going along with this form of ugly discrimination. Can you imagine Jesus ever turning someone away? Of course not.  If anything he would condemn all the pious hypocrites for their self-righteousness.

Jesus was cool that way.

The AZ legislature are putting into law what the Sutherland Institute and Eagle Forum would like to do in Utah. Their so-called “First Freedoms Coalition” would enshrine first class freedoms for themselves and second class freedoms for the rest of us.

WeWashForWhitePeopleThat is not how America works. Not any more.

It doesn’t matter how passionate you are about your faith. LGBT Americans are here to enjoy equal protection under the law. We, the People have established public accommodations laws throughout this country to protect minorities from discrimination.  Right Wing ideologues want to take our nation back to the 1950′s. We will not let them.  They are bitter and angry that the Constitution is forcing them to co-exist in a pluralistic, multicultural society.

They will have to deal with it.

America has always struggled to integrate.  Historically, those who have most loudly professed a love of god and liberty have been the very people leading the charge to deny minorities the same. They champion freedom while they work to deny it to others.  And then disingenuously claim that they are the ones being discriminated against. But our country’s singular truth is that we have always become a stronger nation when we tear down the obstacles that prevent people from partaking in the American dream.

6a00d83542d51e69e20120a8e65655970bNow, there may be some calls to boycott Arizona. Don’t do it. When it became clear that Utah had funded millions into Proposition 8, there were many who advocated a boycott of Utah. There have also been people advocating boycotts of Sochi.  But what Utah needed then wasn’t isolation, but rather engagement. The same with Arizona and Russia. We need LGBT and allied voices to support the brave men and women fighting for equality.  We need to go to Arizona and introduce ourselves to the people there who have been taught to fear us. Please don’t abandon the great activists working there.  Rather, send them your love and encouragement.

We’re not going back to the days of Jim Crow.  Ever. To insure that we all continue moving into the 21st Century, we must stand strong together. One nation. Indivisible.

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Posted in Uncategorized

Capitol Crimes: “We Are the 72 Percent”

By Troy Williams

“Those who profess to favor freedom, and yet depreciate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground.”—Frederick Douglass

photo by David Newkirk

photo by David Newkirk

My fellow jailbird Matthew Landis is fond of saying; “We’re not here asking your permission for equal rights.” It is our birthright as Americans to enjoy equal protection, due process and the right to life, liberty and happiness.

Whether you like us or not.

In the face of oppression, there comes a time when we need to be a little more…assertive.  Sometimes we must put our bodies on the line and boldly declare our rights.

Even if it means handcuffs and a jail cell.

That’s what happened when a few of us dared to challenge the guardians of power at the Utah State Capitol. Those old white patriarchs certainly don’t like to share power with those they consider their lesser. Especially not people they believe are gender and sexual deviants.

And to insure they keep us upstart queers in place, the Utah Legislators are even willing to subvert our democracy.  Case in point: a recent Salt Lake Tribune poll revealed that over 60 percent of Utah support a statewide LGBT non-discrimination law. A more generous Deseret News/KSL poll revealed that 72 percent of Utahns support the proposed law. But it doesn’t matter. Despite widespread support the Legislature is once again refusing to even consider our non-discrimination bill, SB100.

designed by Kathy Carlston

Design by Kathy Carlston

It’s not a radical bill. It’s not a revolutionary manifesto. It simply adds sexual orientation and gender identity to the list of protected classes in state law. The people of Utah agree that gay and transgender people should not be fired or evicted for who they are.

Senate President Wayne Niederhauser even polled his own constituents and discovered that 56 percent of them support the bill.  And 13.7 percent of them were neutral. And yet, even with all of this data, Niederhauser could care less. With such disdain for his constituents, one wonders why he even polls them at all.  Is it to create the illusion that his constituents have a voice?

Niederhauser's Survey Monkey

Niederhauser’s Survey Monkey

We’ve all been here before.  For the past five years the LGBT community has tried to advance a statewide bill to empower the 18 municipalities that have already adopted non-discrimination ordinances. The Chamber of Commerce supports these protections.  Many religions do also, including the LDS Church.

So what is the problem? Do Republicans legislators really dislike gay people that much?

Democracy in Utah has failed.  Our representatives are callous to the will of the people. We have petitioned them for redress and they have slammed shut the doors.

Design by Kathy Carlston

Design by Kathy Carlston

Their excuse this time? The legal battle over Amendment 3.

The old patriarchs are outraged that a federal judge would declare LGBT Americans worthy of equal protection under civil laws.  You can hear them rant and rage, “How dare these opportunist queers infest our cherished institution of sacred marriage!” Outraged, the many in the Utah Legislature were committed to revenge. They quickly drafted several LGBT animus bills and were ready to strike.  One vicious bill would deny transgender kids access to school bathrooms. Another was crafted to protect religions from imaginary gay invasions of temples and chapels. Yet another threatened to wipe out the 18 municipal non-discrimination bills adopted throughout the state. So much for the firm belief in local control.

Governor Herbert started to panic.  It was open season on Utah queers. He sent his Attorney General Sean Reyes and his new hired gun Gene Schaeer into a closed door meeting with Republican leadership with one directive, “Kill these bills!”  The State can’t just brazenly reveal their deep animus against the LGBT community.  Not during their current legal battle. If they do, it could possibly hurt their appeal to the 10th Circuit judges. The AG also instructed the Legislators to not bring SB100 to the floor for a vote.  They couldn’t risk the 10th seeing the Legislature strike it down, because it would prove once and for all how much contempt the State has toward us queers.

Never mind that not hearing SB100 is in itself an act of animus.

The Senate made sent a clear message to the bill’ s sponsor, Senator Steve Urquhart: SB100 is dead.  Niederhauser’s excuse was, “Emotions are too hot now. We all need to cool down.”

by Pat Bagley

by Pat Bagley, Salt Lake Tribune

It’s the same response we’ve heard every single year.  Now is not the right time.  Now is not the right time. Now is not the right time. Well, if not now, when?

Senator Urquhart engaged his own political theatre. He asked our community to come to the Capitol and plaster blue notes over the Senate Doors: “Hear SB100”.  And we did.

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Despite a beautiful collage of notes, the Senate leadership remained unmoved:

Now is not the right time.

What is a marginalized community left to do? We’ve held multiple rallies.  We’ve initiated mass call-ins and emails.  We’ve lobbied our representatives.  We’ve had private meetings with the Governor.  We’ve held public town hall meetings.

Yet still Senator Niederhauser repeats his talking points, “We need more education.  He even personally told me that, “we need more time to bring people around. The legislators need to learn more about LGBT.”

The great Audre Lorde would respond,

“Black and Third World people are expected to educate white people as to our humanity. Women are expected to educate men. Lesbians and gay men are expected to educate the heterosexual world. The oppressors maintain their position and evade their responsibility for their own actions.” ― Audre Lorde, Sister Outsider

1912201_10202539260658515_2064139676_nFive years we’ve been working on Capitol Hill to pass this bill. Five years and still the Legislature doesn’t know our community? How is that possible? They don’t know us because they choose not to. It has become clear that they have no intention of hearing us.

We’d had enough. Power concedes nothing without a fight.

We decided on a course of direct action.  We did not set out to get arrested on that Monday morning.  We had hoped that we could reach a compromise.  All we wanted was a guarantee that SB100 would be pulled out of rules and heard. That’s it.  We asked the Senate to hear a bill that has 72 percent support from the state.  Not a big request.

Apparently it was.

In an act of peaceful civil disobedience, we blocked access to Governor Herbert’s door.  It was a symbolic move. Our access to the Democratic process has been blocked. We chose therefore to block access to the governor. Some have asked why Herbert and not the Senate? First, his office directed the Senate to not hear SB100. Second, we’d reach the Senate later!

photo by David Newkirk

photo by David Newkirk

So we stood, arms locked, a small group of defiant queer men and women joined by active Mormons, grandmothers and straight allies. We wore signs that read “We are the 72 Percent” and “Pass SB100 Now”.  We stood in front of the Governor’s doors with the intent of having our voices heard. The media gathered.

photo by David Newkirk

photo by David Newkirk

The State Troopers also arrived quickly to intervene.  They demanded we disperse. They even tried to physically remove us but we stood firm.

photo by David Newkirk

photo by David Newkirk

We asked if they were here to arrest us.  They said no.  They tried to detain a couple of us. But ultimately it became clear that they didn’t know what to do. They had never dealt with civil disobedience before.  They were simply flabbergasted. So, we continued to block the doors.

1911679_10203005817095615_1247164747_nKSL noon coverage

As our protest moved into its second hour, Senate President Wayne Niederhauser did try to negotiate.  Through Senator Urquhart, he offered a “town hall meeting” where we could voice our concerns. But for us, that was “too little, too late.” We’ve already done town halls. Multiple times.  We saw this as another opportunity for the State to give lip service to the LGBT community without providing any tangible guarantees. Despite requests from Senator Urquhart to take the deal, we refused to disperse.

Francisco Kjolseth, Salt Lake Tribune

Francisco Kjolseth, Salt Lake Tribune

Social media was erupting. And more people came to join us.  Many showed up to just give support.  One Mormon mom rushed to the Capitol with sack-lunches of home-made sandwiches, carrot sticks and cookies and a note that said “You Are Loved”

10073_10201663446332570_1860220481_nMeanwhile Eagle Forum president Gayle Ruzika was losing her shit.  She sent out a warning email to her followers that the “Homosexuals are here at the Capitol!”. Hide the children!

1795304_10202535510244757_876068256_oWe debated back and forth with Senator Steve Urquhart, who was arguably stuck between a gay rock and a hard-hearted place. He’s a great guy, a true ally, and we certainly didn’t make his job easy. We repeatedly requested that Senator Niederhauser come speak with us. We wanted to share our concerns with him directly. The Senate president said he might meet with a couple of us behind closed doors. But we would only agree to meet in sunlight, for all to see.  Closed door meetings got us into this mess in the first place. Sadly, he refused.

So, we decided to take our party to Niederhauser. We knew where he was scheduled to be next.  We brought our team to a Senate conference room and blocked access to both doors.

Francisco Kjolseth, Salt Lake Tribune

Francisco Kjolseth, Salt Lake Tribune

Senator Stuart Reid was indignant.  Power in Utah is not used to ever being told “no.” It was his final insistence that led the troopers to arrest us.  But not before we were threatened with fifteen felony charges.

photo by Ben Winslow

photo by Ben Winslow, FOX 13

It was an outré act of intimidation to make us all stand down. Our response was, “Hell No!”

photo by Francisco Kjolseth

Francisco Kjolseth, Salt Lake Tribune

“Officer, is it your intent to arrest us right now?”

“Yes.” And off we went.

FOX 13 Coverage

Rick Bowmer, AP

Rick Bowmer, AP

JIM URQUART, REUTERS

JIM URQUART, REUTERS

JIM URQUHART, REUTERS

JIM URQUHART, REUTERS

AP Photo / Rick Bowme

AP Photo / Rick Bowme

photo by Francisco Kjolseth

Francisco Kjolseth, Salt Lake Tribune

Without resistance, 13 from our group were arrested and led away in handcuffs and zip-ties. I yelled “Liberty and Justice for All” as I was escorted out of the hallway.

Later I met with my thirteen other would-be felons. We were placed into squad cars and driven to the County Jail to be booked.  As I got into the car, Katy Perry’s “Roar” was playing on the radio.

You hear my voice, you hear that sound
Like thunder gonna shake the ground
You held me down, but I got up (HEY!)
Get ready ’cause I’ve had enough!

We were processed, strip-searched, fingerprinted, then mug shot and thrown into holding pens.  I was dropped into a drunk tank with three intoxicated homeless men.

Through the entire process I felt a deep peaceful calm, and at times pure joy.  And how could I not?  I was booked with Gail Turpin, a feisty grandmother in her late 60’s, Donna Weinholtz a fierce straight ally, Angela Isaacs, a stoic straight Mormon, Michelle Turpin, an outspoken, defiant lesbian, Gail Murdock a bold lesbian warrior, Jake Hanson, a steady and resolute eco-queer, Kevin Garner, my animated and beloved roommate, Steve Germann, the next rising gay generation, Orlando Luna our Latin fireball, Dustin Trent & Matthew Conway, our two passionate new friends who rushed up to join us, and finally, one of my closest friends and Queer Nation Utah alum, Matthew Landis.

We were the Capitol 13.  It was an honor to be booked with them.

The staff at the County Jail were for the most part respectable.  Many of the officers who were processing us confessed privately that they appreciated our actions and were on our side.  Many of the other prisoners also cheered and thanked us for “standing up to the man!”

At 8pm, we were finally released of our own recognizance.  As we departed the jail exhausted, we were met by a cheering crowd of friends and TV cameras. Hugs and tears were everywhere. The response was overwhelming.  Our phones and FB pages have been flooded with love and gratitude.  The AP, Advocate and Reuters had taken the story national. We even made Spanish news! We had made an impact.

And Facebook was even sharing this meme created by Curtis Jensen!

1779240_10152247915706171_1118903613_nThank you – all of you – for your love and support.  We felt your strength and passion throughout the entire day. We knew you were cheering us on. It was easy to be brave because we knew you were all rooting for us.

1069817_10152573059704018_1799297063_nWatch KUTV’s coverage of our arrest and release.

In the end, I’m sure we certainly pissed off the Senators even more. But you know what? They already despise us anyway.  Their animus against our community remains entrenched.  But our community is on fire. Our community knows that there are people who will put everything on the line to fight for our civil liberties.  And maybe, hopefully, we helped inspire others to stand up for their rights and liberties.

But there is one message that I hope Utah Legislators do take away from our action.  Utah’s LGBT community is ready to go the distance. We will be back. We will never stop fighting until every LGBT Utahn enjoys the blessings of this great nation. We will never yield until every gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender American experiences full equality under the law. Every Legislator now knows that we are ready to lay our bodies down and make our convictions a reality.

And they’re going to hear us ROAR!

Now you don’t have to be arrested to make a difference. We all have our own role to play. Some are radical. Others are not. All are important. We also had organizers who designed and made our signs.  Others shot video and told our story on social media. Others wrote press releases and made phone calls. Others encouraged us to keep going. We also stood with Michael, Josh, Connie, Jim, Jen, David and Rose. When some had to leave, others arrived to stand in their place. All were essential.

Full Salt Lake Tribune coverage.

My advice to future activists; discover your voice and take a stand. If you feel the call to engage in civil disobedience, always act with love and joy. Let every action be peaceful and non-violent. Work in coalition with friends and allies.  Claim your rights and liberties. Be unyielding to oppression. Always demand that government be accountable to We, the People.

Remember that “Liberty and Justice for All” includes you.

Your life can transform the state and the nation. So take action!

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Posted in Uncategorized

Governor Herbert: This is the Place, Let It Stand!

by Troy Williams

photo by Rick Egan, Salt Lake Tribune.

photo by Rick Egan, Salt Lake Tribune.

Ah, I’ve missed this! The rallies, the chants, the energy.  Utah’s LGBT community is fired up like never before.  But the tone is different.  In 2008, when we recognized that Utahns had bankrolled and organized California’s Proposition 8, we were all on the defensive.  There was tremendous anger and frustration.  But it was also a tipping point. Prop 8 created an unprecedented degree of unity in our community.  We marched, we rallied and we litigated.

Five years later, look where we are.  Prop 8 was ruled unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court.  Key elements of the Defense of Marriage Act have been struck down. And right here in Utah, Judge Shelby ruled that our anti-gay Amendment 3 is, despite a majority vote, actually unconstitutional.

Of course, opponents of equality were not going to take it lying down.  And truly, I’d be disappointed if they did.  Governor Gary Herbert has “frozen” the 1,300 marriages that happened over those momentous 17 days.  And sure, a lot of the old, tired, hyperbolic rhetoric has emerged.  Wailing over a supposed loss of “religious freedoms” and gnashing over their “state’s rights”. But none of it seems to carry any oomph.  Even the LDS Church’s response has been tepid at best.  Like they are not even really trying anymore.

And the opponents of gay marriage have been plotting their uprising from an Orem Golden Coral.  What happened? Was there a falling out with Chick-fil-a?

On the other hand, Utah’s LGBT Community is on fire! After experiencing life as equal citizens for a couple weeks, do you think that any LGBT Utahn will quietly acquiesce to second-class citizenship?

Hell no!

Everybody is on the move! Tim Wagner from the Sierra Club of Utah and a St. George man named Matthew Jacobsen immediately drafted petitions to Governor Herbet declaring “LET IT STAND”. The demand was simple.  Be on the right side of history. Let Shelby’s ruling stand. Stop wasting Utah tax-payers money on futile efforts to marginalize and demean Utah’s minority families.

Tim Wagner, photo by Sheryll Lynne

Tim Wagner, photo by Sheryll Lynne

Within two weeks MoveOn combined their petitions totaling over 58,000 signatures.

Tim called me up and asked if I could help him deliver the signatures with panache.  I accepted.  We organized the “Let It Stand” rally at the Capitol on January 10th.  We invited participants to bring letters and photos of Utah’s LGBT families.  We invited diverse speakers to share their lives before television and newspaper reporters. We asked people to bring their love and joy to the Capitol.

And wow, did Utah deliver!

Photo by Sheryll Lynne

Photo by Sheryll Lynne

An estimated 1,800 people filled the Capitol Rotunda.  What an unforgettable site.  We invited the legally married couples to stand behind the speakers.

12 year old Riley Hackford-Peer pretty much stole the show.  He talked about the joy he had when his two mothers Ruth and Kim were married on December 20th.  He delivered the most memorable line of the day, describing the feeling of seeing his moms getting married as “fireworks in my heart”.

Candace and Megan Berret also delivered a powerful talk on how their infant daughter Quinn is marginalized by not having the legal status of both parents.  They said, “Governor Herbert, you say you want to protect children? Then start with ours!”

Candice & Megan, photo by Rick Egan, Salt Lake Tribune.

Candice & Megan, photo by Rick Egan, Salt Lake Tribune.

We also heard from Jeremy Cloward a Zombie Anthropologist, Harvard Philosophy School Dropout, card-carrying Republican and…he’s a Mormon! He spoke to share his support of LGBT rights.

And of course, the amazing Derek Kitchen and Moudi Sbeity, two of the plaintiffs also addressed the crowd to cheers!

Photo by Torrence Whimbish

Derek and Moudi, Photo by Torrence Whimbish

The Tribune created a montage of the event.

And we also caught the attention of the Los Angeles Times.

And FOX 13

And KUTV

And even KSL covered us (though the web edition mistakenly reports we delivered only 44k signatures).

Photo by Alex Gallivan

Photo by Alex Gallivan

Photo by Lissa Lander

Photo by Lissa Lander

You can watch the entire 35 minute rally from YouTube’s Duffy84

My job was to get the crowd fired up for more work to come. Here are my remarks at the closing of the event.

This month we will also be celebrating the life of Dr. Martin Luther King.  Sometimes people ask me – When do you think the next Martin Luther King will arise? Or maybe they ask, who do you think will be the next Harvey Milk?  Everybody wants to be inspired by a visionary leader.  But this is what I believe;

Martin Luther King and Harvey Milk never died.  They live and breathe in the hearts and minds of all of us.  In all of you!  

These great Americans are still with us today.  Their fire burns in our blood. I see in all of you the living legacy of Sojourner Truth, Mother Jones, Dr. King, Bayard Rustin, Cesar Chavez, Rosa Parks, Rachel Carson, Chief Seattle, Sylvia Rivera, Harvey Milk and so many other pioneers.

They live in all of us – and everyday they are pushing us forward – everyday they keep nagging us, prodding us, reminding us — our work is not done.

Now there are some who say they want to preserve “First Freedoms” for a select chosen few – But our work is to expand the freedoms of ALL PEOPLE! So no, Governor Herbert – our work is not done.  We will not remain silent while Utah families are oppressed.  We will not back down while any LGBT family is suffering.  We are standing together united for the cause of justice!

And of Judge Robert Shelby’s ruling – in one voice we say to you:

THIS IS THE PLACE: LET IT STAND! THIS IS THE PLACE: LET IT STAND! THIS IS THE PLACE: LET IT STAND! 

Photo by Jonathan Adamson

Photo by Jonathan Adamson

We then marched boxes full of signatures and letters to the Governor’s office.  He, of course, was not there to receive them.  But as I told his receptionist, these signatures are delivered with love.

Photo by Jeff Allred, The Deseret News

“delivered with love” Photo by Jeffrey D. Allred, The Deseret News

The day was punctuated with the exciting news that the Federal Government would be recognizing Utah’s same-sex marriages.  Even though Gary Herbert may see us as second-class citizens, it’s comforting to know that the protections inherent within the U.S. Constitution still apply to LGBT Utahns.  This is our country.  These are our families.

We will not stop. We are fighting for the love of our lives.

Thank you to my big queer Utah family.  I’m honored to be included in such loving and formidable community.  Ain’t no stopping us now! I can’t wait to see you at our next event!

Photo by Amanda Rice

Photo by Amanda Rice

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Thank You 2013!

by Troy Williams

My 2013My 2013 has been epic.  I’m extremely grateful for so many things.  Mostly, I’m grateful to have terrific people in my life who inspire me daily.  A big thanks to the Equality Utah team for opening hearts in our state while fearlessly ascending the Capitol steps. It was a great honor to receive the Allies Award this past September. Also, I want to thank the team from Restore our Humanity for a historic, heroic win. What a way to end the year! Who ever thought that Utah would be the 18th state to legalize gay marriage?

A huge thanks to the talented team from Hot Snakes Media for taking me into their family. I’m glad we survived the God Squad! I’m excited for the year ahead.

I also want to express my undying gratitude to the staff, volunteers and listeners of 90.9 FM KRCL for your constant love and support. Also, to Alliance for a Better Utah for welcoming me onto their board. They helped expose the shenanigans of John Swallow.  I can’t wait to see what we pull off next.

Thanks to my playa family for another unforgettable burn. “F**ck Your Face!” And endless thanks to all of my close friends. You make life in Salt Lake City so great. Also, much love to David Newkirk for his non-stop encouragement. His photography makes us all look like rock-stars and super-models. And of course, I am so grateful for the loving awesomeness of Josh Lee. Everyday he makes me so happy to be gay.

What’s next for 2014? I can’t wait for the discovery.

Happy New Year!

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