by Troy Williams
He is one of the co-founders of the Utah Pride Center and Equality Utah. He is a former talk radio host on KZJO. He’s a world traveler and a fantsy-pants Russian art dealer.
Jim’s main talent though is bringing people together. Even enemies. In the early 80’s he traveled to The Soviet Union and developed a friendship with the Russian people. More recently, Jim and the so-called “gang of five” opened a dialogue with the LDS leadership, which led the Mormon Church to endorse non-discrimination ordinances in Salt Lake City. Soon, Jim is taking off to a university in Iran for a six-month teaching gig. Humble yet outspoken, he commands the room with an over-the-top personality that makes him an irresistible force. We spoke recently on KRCL’s RadioActive.
Troy Williams: Tell me about your former radio show on KZJO.
Jim Dabakis: I started in 1976. Joe Redburn was actually the first guy ever to do a talk show in Salt Lake and I used to listen to him. And that’s what I wanted to do. I had a lot to say and nobody to listen to me!
TW: I know the feeling! KZJO is now K-Talk?
JD: Yes, and I worked for KALL as well. Talk radio was different then. It was less vitriolic. You had a conservative for one hour, a liberal the next and they were friends. It was much more congenial.
TW: Was your show balanced, liberal, or just you ranting?
JD: It was maybe 20 percent political. But there is a giant world out there with lots of interesting things.
TW: Were you “out” back in those days?
JD: I’ll tell you how I came out. I was on KALL radio filling in for Tom Barberi. The scheduler had made a mistake and they had another host, Gayle Ruzika. So both of us were in the studio together and we didn’t have the best rapport. Two or three days later I was filling in again with my co-host John Prince. And someone called in who sounded suspiciously like Gayle Ruzika, and said, “Are you gay? Yes or no – just answer it!” And poor John, a very straight guy was paralyzed. And I said, “whoever you are, and I think I know, of course I’m gay, but don’t worry, your husband is too old for me!” And that was it. KALL never called me back again.
TW: Was that the death of your radio career?
JD: I was on air for thirteen years, said what I wanted to say, and I packed up and moved to Russia in 1989.
TW: I read that in the early 80’s you traveled to Russia and snuck away from your bus tour dressed in D.I clothes to meet the people.
JD: I got bored and I didn’t want to go on the Red Square tour, so I escaped and wandered around. I ended up at the English speaking part of Radio Moscow and I met a guy named Vladimir Pozner who was their chief propagandist. We became buds. Eventually I invited him to the states.
TW: Did people ever say, “You’re crazy!”
JD: I remember on the streets of Leningrad, there was a guy who was obviously following me. I knew it, and he knew that I knew it. The Russians eat ice cream from the street no matter what the weather is. I bought two ice cream cones, held one out, he walked by and took the ice cream cone. I walked on and he continued to follow me.
TW: You bought an ice cream cone for the KGB?
JD: Yeah, (laughs) it could have got me in a lot of trouble!
TW: Jumping forward. You were one of the co-founders of Equality Utah. Over the last six months they have passed seven non-discrimination ordinances in both workplace and housing.
JD: I leave the organization and they flourish!
TW: It was really made possible by the endorsement of the LDS Church. You were instrumental in bringing them to the table to talk.
JD: After Prop 8 and the kiss-in at Temple Square with Matt and Derrick, they reached out to us. And when we met them, one of them said, “it’s such a pleasure to meet the BLT community”. They were trying.
TW: Do you see cracks in the prejudice that some Church leaders have?
JD: I think there is a great diversity of opinion among the top Church leaders. It’s an evolving position that goes back and forth. Let’s just hope it continues to move forward.
TW: After the Church endorsed these ordinances, there was a poll that said 67 percent of Utahans also supported the ordinances. Which was an 11 percent jump. Which is cool – but also suggests a theocratic group mindset. That’s also scary.
JD: Yes, but if you can convince one person and change everything, isn’t that easier than a thousand demonstrations and a million chants? Do you want to be effective or just be out there enjoying the agitation? Remember it was the Church that single-handedly turned the country around on the M-X missile due to Ed Firmage in the mid 80s’. He convinced the Church that this was not in their best interest. Those buffoons Orrin Hatch and Jake Garn were all for hiding these bombs all over Southern Utah in little shelters so that the Commies would never know where they were. Hatch and Garn couldn’t be more for it until the Church said they were against it. Then they switched gears.
TW: Coming up, The Great Satan is meeting the Axis of Evil. You are heading to Iran to teach for six months?
JD: Last May I was asked to participate in a seminar in Tehran on “Sexual Minorities in Religious Communities.” I loved it. Every experience there was fabulous. After the seminar we rented a vehicle and traveled all over Iran, and met amazing people. Invariably, wherever we were, people wanted to talk to us, invite us to their home, tell us how crazy their president was, recite poetry. These are a very spiritual people. Their culture is fabulous. I loved it and I’m going back.