Dustin Lance Black: Pillars of Salt

5.24.2010

By Dustin Lance Black

For Larabee, that invitation represented 'a complete change of heart.' But not everyone feels that way. 'People are really suspicious of it as well,' says Williams. 'A lot of the reaction was, 'This is amazing,' but a lot of it was great mistrust.' Many suspected the church of maneuvering to dilute the ugly press it had received after Prop. 8.

But when the Salt Lake City Council debated a nondiscrimination ordinance offering protections for same-sex couples in medical care, hospital visitation, and insurance rights, Williams and his colleagues saw an opportunity to test the church's commitment. They insisted that a neutral stance from the church would be unacceptable this time around. Last October, the church made history by publicly supporting the ordinance, a shift that maybe only those raised in the Mormon Church can fully appreciate. As Jepsen puts it, 'When the church came out in support of the ordinance, they were giving Latter-day Saints'not only in Salt Lake City and in Utah, but across the country'permission to be in favor of these basic rights.' Dabakis jumps in excitedly. 'Before the church gave their statement, 17% [of people in Utah] were in favor of antidiscrimination. The Deseret News [SLC's major newspaper] did a poll afterward, and it was up to 69% within days.'

'It was the perfect storm of activism,' says Williams. 'It was the angry protests around the temple, it was the arrest of Matt and Derek. It was Equality Utah's amazing response. All of us were working on different levels, and it finally cracked. I really think it's a model of how activism should and could work.'

NIGHT FALLS
The sun was going down as we walked out of the Red Iguana, and Williams steered me off politics with, 'And did you know Utah has the hottest queer guys in the country?'
Two of his friends were having a party. When we got there, the place was filled with gay men and lesbians: a photographer, a journalist, a political aid'a lot of different occupations, but one overriding theme. Everyone there was young and attractive.

I started asking if everyone there was from Utah, and one young gay man, Josh Moon, said no. He'd grown up in Fort Worth, Texas, but moved to Utah to be closer to gay Mormons. 'I felt really outcast in Texas as a Mormon kid,' he says. 'I was tired of feeling alone and different, so I moved to Salt Lake.'

Now he wants to work for state senator Ben McAdams, who replaced senator Scott McCoy, an out gay legislator who stepped down. Moon thinks that people like McAdams -- 'a straight, white Mormon who is totally ahead of the curve on LGBT rights' -- represent a progressive shift in the state. It seems hard to believe, but one look at McAdams's platform makes it clear that there is such a thing as a devout Mormon in favor of full gay equality.

Matthew Landis is one of the few on the other side of his 20s. 'One thing about Salt Lake City is that most people move away at 25,' he says. 'You'll notice that it's very, very gay but very, very young.'

Very, very gay? Landis nods. 'I've lived in the gayest cities -- New York, San Francisco, Atlanta, and Miami. And I would say it's probably gayer than most of them. I work in Provo, Utah, now, and it will fuck with your gaydar, because you can't tell who is or isn't because they're clean-cut and like show tunes and ballroom dancing. There are a lot of similarities between Mormon culture and gay culture, and I think that's why it thrives here.'

I was skeptical. It was time to see this gay culture firsthand. First up was Babylon, a dark, spacious club with a glass-walled balcony upstairs for the lurkers to peer down on the dancers. And it was true, the crowd was young -- even younger than the folks at the party. It was more of the same at Club Sound. As the night wore on, it seemed there was no end to gay hangouts in SLC. I visited a lesbian bar called Paper Moon; the Trapp, with a local, hometown feel and an older crowd; and a queer-friendly hipster bar called W Lounge.

But I was happiest at Club Jam in the Marmalade District, Salt Lake City's gay neighborhood. A new bar, it had struggled for some time to open its doors, running up against opposition from neighbors at city council meetings. But this was the gay district, right? Who were all these housewives with nothing better to do than spend every day in city hall? After some head-scratching, they figured it out. It turns out the new bar was surrounded by the homes of members of a well-known family that still practices fundamentalist Mormonism. Polygamy. So it wasn't all the families in the neighborhood against them. Just one big one.

Club Jam is small but well designed, with a fantastic beer bar and flat-screens everywhere. On this night, they were having a launch party for a new Salt Lake City business venture -- a gay porn site, MormonBoyz.com. When I asked to meet the site's founder, a handsome, clean-cut man introduced himself as Paul. Like others, Paul has found his own subversive way to take on the church in the wake of Prop. 8. He knows that Mormons are in a bind: If they object to his Sean Cody'style pictorials of supposed Mormon boys, he gets publicity and the site gets traffic.

As the night wore on, the venues spun past ever faster. At Pure, the city's big Saturday gay nightclub -- bigger than any I've been to in New York or Los Angeles -- young, polished Mormons, cute lesbians, and some fabulously aggressive trannies cut it on the dance floor like there was no tomorrow. Downstairs in the under-21 section, a Latina drag queen called the crowd into action. 'I want to see all of you queens up in Park City tomorrow to demonstrate your support for 8: The Mormon Proposition!' The crowd roared. Word was out.

I snuck upstairs to the over-21 area, filled with couches, table service, privacy curtains, and flat-screens. The music was great, and I settled in for a drink. But within seconds, a dazzling blonde tranny sat down next to me with a bottle of champagne and asked what the hell I was doing in Salt Lake City. I said, 'I want to know how gay it is.'

She laughed, 'Have you seen Mormon boys? They're like the British -- even the straight ones seem gay!'

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