Mormons Condemn Anti-Gay Violence in Utah

On August 26, Dane Hall, a 20-year-old man, was assaulted outside a Salt Lake City gay nightclub. His assailants yelled the word “fag,” then hit, kicked, and curb-checked Hall, holding his jaw to the curb while kicking the back of his head. He lost six teeth in the attack. His jaw broke in three places. A shard of bone remains lodged in his brain.

On September 7, it was Cameron Nelson, a 32-year-old gay man, attacked late at night while taking the trash out after work at a salon in American Fork, Utah. His assailants also yelled anti-gay slurs.

Citing as many as three violent attacks on LGBT people reported in the last two weeks, faith leaders in Salt Lake City convened a candlelight vigil last Friday in the city’s historic Liberty Park.

Hundreds attended the vigil and subsequent march through Salt Lake City; including representatives from American Baptist, Roman Catholic, United Church of Christ, Buddhist, Humanist, and Pagan traditions.

But the “big news” of the event, according to vigil organizer Marian Edwards (pastor of the City of Hope church, an LGBT-welcoming congregation in Salt Lake City), was “how LDS persons of faith spoke out in support of LGBT persons.”

One of them was Marnie Nelson Bales, the sister of Cameron Nelson. Bales described her brother as the “ray of sunshine” in their LDS family. His coming out at age 16 didn’t change that. “I’m LDS. My family is LDS,” said Bales. “And you know, it doesn’t matter. He’s my brother, and we love him. It’s intolerable to treat someone as less than precious and valuable.”

Another LDS woman who spoke against anti-LGBT violence was Christy C., a church-attending mom from Sandy, Utah. When the call went out for vigil volunteers, she offered to help. She was shy. She’d never spoken out like this before. And to top it all off, she was night blind—she’d need someone to drive her and her five children home from the evening rally.

But on Friday night, Christy stood before a crowd in Salt Lake City and said:

“I have come here because I want to show my children in a real and meaningful way what it is I believe. And I have come here to deliver a message from people of my faith.

“My church is called The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. I have determined for myself that if I am going to belong to a church named after Jesus Christ then His teachings and His example should trump all other doctrine taught.

“Our Bible reads, ‘And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment. And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these.(Mark 12:30-31)

“I have great hope in a brighter future. This is because I have a great faith in this generation. Our children are incredible and wise in ways many of us have yet to become. This generation seems to really get it and do not define themselves by the ignorant and misinformed views of their parents or leaders.

“Despite all our differences, despite our race, our religion, our beliefs… despite our status, education, or our income… and despite our political affiliations, or our sexual orientation… despite it all… we all belong to each other. We need not agree with one another… to love one another. We need not think alike… to love alike.”

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Joanna Brooks is the author of The Book of Mormon Girl: A Memoir of an American Faith (Free Press / Simon & Schuster, 2012) and a senior correspondent for Religion Dispatches.