Last night, thousands of people gathered in the cold across from the Church office building in Salt Lake City for a hastily organized demonstration. While I do not know who organized it or how it came together, I do know that Thursday night text messages flew along networks announcing the rally and march for the next day. One, from a former student who was forwarding it arrived late at night and woke me from my sleep.
Jacob Whipple, of Salt Lake City, had planned, according to the press, to marry his boyfriend in California in April. He was angry at the passage of Proposition 8 and networked with Equality Utah and perhaps the Center to organize a march. Not only text messages announced the upcoming event, the press was informed and Friday they filled the airwaves with the upcoming event.
I thought maybe a couple of hundred people might show up, in what would be a large demonstration for Salt Lake. After all, this is a city and state that eschews public protest as an act of abnormal people. I was wrong. Contrary to my expectations from living in this city and attending many demonstrations for almost two decades somewhere between two thousand and five thousand people showed up. They kept coming.
At the rally it was almost impossible to hear what speakers such as former Salt Lake City mayor and former Latter-day Saint Rocky Anderson said, or what three members of the state legislature spoke. The electronics were not powerful enough to carry their words to the enormous and growing crowd milling around City Creek Park, greeting friends, looking at each others signs, and commenting on how amazing the size of the crowd was.
One could feel a consciousness arising and a solidarity appearing as status quos were left behind. People who did not know one another were speaking to each other. There were lots of Gay women and men, to be sure, but there were elderly couples with their adult children and sometimes even grandchildren, as well as young couples with a child or two in strollers and people with signs saying “straight but not narrow”. The diversity of the crowd struck me.
It seemed the demonstration had drawn a cross section of the city’s LDS population that was troubled by the Church’s militancy on Gay marriage. This was not a crowd of outsiders, but ordinary Utahns, with very few exceptions.
I did hear, barely, Jacob Whipple comment over his weak microphone about how long the Latter-day Saint gay community had languished in apathy while letting others fight their battles. He thanked the Church, in true testimony fashion, for causing people to come together to stand up for themselves, before asking people to respect property and stay either on the sidewalk or, where the police indicated, march in the streets.
With that the crowd began to slowly pour, like thick Utah honey, from the park onto North Temple Street. Besides a myriad of signs with slogans varying from citations of scripture to wry comments on polygamy, people began walking and chanting. They said “ separate Church and state” and “what do we want? Equality. When do we want it? Now!” “Yes we can! Yes we can!” Over and over like a recitation of prayer. At times the chants would stop and people would take pictures of each other, and the lighted temple as backdrop for the signs flowing past.
The police had not cleared North Temple of traffic and so the demonstrators flowed through cars stopped on the street. North and South Bound traffic on State Street could not proceed for maybe fifteen to twenty minutes as the horde of demonstrators passed. Some drivers honked their horns in solidarity with the marchers, others opened their windows to shake hands of marchers passing by, while other’s sat stony faced and grim.
At the Church office building, suited men sat grim faced guarding property boundaries. Some six children stood by the building’s faded white walls and sang “I am a child of God”. The marchers could have sung along. They know the words and melody. Certainly the phrase graced a number of signs. But they did not. Inside and outside were defined by that song that instead of a song of hope became a weapon thrown against brothers and sisters by children.
One marcher said about the kids’ singing “Eek, I remember that, and it is not a good memory” s he referred to being raised Latter-day Saint and struggling to accept himself and his sexuality.
The marchers circled temple square, with its gates locked, and its gray wall hunkered down protectively. They marched peacefully, although the fifty or so counter demonstrators were surrounded by the massive march. Around them people would stop to exchange taunts of “bigot”, as police stood by. But I saw no altercations.
On the north side of the Church’s two block campus, a blond boy, maybe eight years old sat on a post and led the crowd in a chant of “separate Church and state”. After a while, he stopped and said “this is my little sister” as he introduced a smaller blond girl, held by a man next to him, with a woman standing close.
The Church released a statement defending its democratic rights and disingenuously claiming it was unfair that it was “singled out” from a “broad coalition” of religious groups supporting Proposition 8.
Nevertheless, this was not only not a crowd that could have voted in California, it was not a crowd of the general populace. It was a horde of mostly Mormons. The issue was in house. They were protesting their Church’s stand on homosexuality, and its political engagement.
On the southeast side of temple square, near where the marker that sets the 00 mark for the valley’s system of coordinates, a man started chanting “this is what democracy looks like”. The crowd picked up the chant and roared it at the Church. Prop 8 was defeated, but a movement seems to have been born within the Church.