Friday, March 27, 2009

Utah Gay Rights Activists: Service, Not Protest

I've been very frustrated with some of the response to the Prop 8 vote here in Utah. The outrage I understand, especially as it's followed up by complete capitulation by our legislature to the taloned claws of Gayle Ruzicka, and the tiny worlds of LaVar and Sutherland on the issue. But the protests at Sutherland's "Sacred Ground" forum made a spectacle out of activists, overshadowing even LaVar's "legislate for God" mentality.

So this was a welcome report to read:

Instead of pickets and chants, members and supporters of Utah's lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community plan to take up garden tools and medical-supply kits for "General Service Weekend" on April 4 and 5.

Some of the hard feelings from the LDS Church's backing of Prop 8 -- the November ballot measure that banned same-sex marriage in California -- appear to have dissipated. But LGBT activists remain motivated in their pursuit of marriage equality and other legal protections, said organizer Jacob Whipple.

"We wanted to harness that energy for productive means," he said. "We don't feel that there is a need to protest [the LDS Church] further."

Whipple launched the Salt Lake City protest that drew 3,000 people to Temple Square thee days after the November election.

Salt Lake City police Sgt. Robin Snyder said Thursday that no permits for protests outside of general conference have been requested -- the deadline to apply is today, although a permit is not required. In recent weeks, a viral e-mail spread false rumors about a massive and violent gay-rights rally planned near the conference, a semiannual event that features speeches from prominent LDS leaders.

Whipple said Thursday he knows of no plans by gay-rights supporters to demonstrate during the conference. Instead, he has arranged several service projects in Ogden and Salt Lake County, including cleanups at Dimple Dell Park and the Jordan River Parkway, gardening for the nonprofit Utah G.A.R.D.E.N.S. and social-work visits to refugee families. He expects 300 to 600 volunteers to participate.
There was a time for street protests and picket signs. Just a few years ago, it was the only way to get yourself or your organization or your movement in the news. Things are very different today, and there are much more effective ways to get your message out. It's nice to see local equality activists making the realization, and pointing their energy in a direction that actually reaches people, rather than simply combating them. Regardless of what you know to be right or fair, progress in the political realm requires acknowledging your surroundings, and who it is you hope to get your message to. Service, not protests, is a good start in this state.

Civil disobedience is necessary at times, and public protest is what our country was built on. But there comes a time when you are turning more away with your indignation and outrage (see Chris Buttars), when you could be winning hearts and minds with outreach.

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