History of Queer Nation Utah — Salt Lake Magazine

by Troy Williams

I want to thank Salt Lake Magazine for their brave choice to print my story “Welcome to the Gayborhood”.  It’s a (woefully incomplete) history of Utah’s LGBT community, focusing specifically on the radical tactics of Queer Nation Utah back in the 90’s.  Things have changed a lot.  Most of it good.  I was in awe researching this piece. It’s an amazing story comprised of the most courageous people I have ever met.  These queer pioneers came forward and spoke out in an era when it was dangerous to do so.

This is my love-letter to all of you who bravely rewrote history and created a powerful new story for all us to enjoy and contribute. May we all keep flaming.

Welcome to the Gayborhood: Once a renegade minority, Utah’s LGBT Community is growing in power. 

When Matthew Landis was 21 years old, he attended his first protest in downtown, Salt Lake City. It was 1991, and radical actions from ACT UP and Queer Nation were erupting in cities across the country. The Grantsville native grew up in a Mormon home and knew he was gay at an early age—and he wanted everyone else to know it, too.

Sporting bright red lipstick and pearls, he set off for downtown to join members of the newly formed Queer Nation Utah. He, with original organizers Curtis Jensen and Rocky O’Donovan, led a rabble of some 40 “political queers” determined to shock Mormon Conference goers at Temple Square. “We wore shirts that said ‘fag’, ‘queer’ and ‘dyke’—things that, at the time, were very shocking,” Landis recalls. “We weren’t much interested in diplomacy.”

The group was outraged by rhetoric expressed by leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, including apostle Boyd K. Packer who proclaimed homosexuals were “predators [who] proselytize the young or the inexperienced.”

But the newly formed Queer Nation, Landis says, was developing a voice. They rallied around the temple hoisting provocative signs that read, “Every Tenth Mormon is a Queer” and “Religion Can Be Cured.”

“Salt Lake changed after Queer Nation,” he says. “We would never be silent again.”


Countering the Culture:

Mormons and Republicans have always had to share the capital city with a variety of renegade communities. In the late 1800s, Brigham Morris Young, the 35th son of frontier prophet Brigham Young, entertained Mormon audiences across Utah with his cross-dressing alter ego Madam Pattirini. In the early 1900s, the Industrial Workers of the World organized anti-capitalist campaigns from the Radical Book Shop on State Street. During the 1970s, feminists advocating the ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment chained themselves to the gates of Temple Square. And the 1980s brought a thriving punk scene and a “Rock Against Reagan” concert on the streets outside Abravanal Hall. Utah confirms the adage, the more conservative the culture, the more expressive the counterculture.

About Troy Williams

Troy is currently the public affairs director of KRCL 90.9 FM in Salt Lake City and the executive producer of RadioActive. His work has been featured in The Nation, Interview Magazine, Huffington Post, The Gay Times and OUT Magazine. He also co-wrote the one-woman show, The Passion of Sister Dottie S. Dixon. In 2011 Troy will appear in the new Errol Morris documentary, Tabloid.
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