NCLR Executive Director Kate Kendell Speaks at Peace & Possibility Lecture Series

National Center for Lesbian Rights Executive Director Kate Kendell spoke to a crowd of approximately 130 people at Weber State University as a part of the Peace & Possibility Lecture Series. In her remarks, Kendell discussed the importance of standing up one's beliefs and to be active in pursuing and defending those ideals. 

Dry eyes were hard to come by as Kendell finished her remarks. For many in the audience, Kendell's story and words showed the need for greater love and understanding. 

Peace & Possibility Essay Contest Winners First Place - Jalen Carpenter

Jalen Carpenter

          Growing up I did not know what “LGBTQ” meant. I was not familiar with the term and I did not know that it would affect my life so much. All I knew was that there was man and woman. I thought life was black and white and nothing in-between. Growing up I always felt off and I never felt complete with myself. Being a star athlete in high school and having a number of scholarship offers for basketball put my life on pause temporarily. I thought I was living my dream through basketball. Playing for Weber State was the best thing that happened to me at the time. I did not think my life could get any better. I felt like I was on top of the world. Not having to worry about paying for school and starting on the Women’s Basketball team was my dream. But in the back of my head, I still felt off. My sophomore year I came out as lesbian and I thought I was set. I was still confused with my identity and I was not familiar with the term “transgender”. I did not know what it meant and when I heard the word, I thought of drag queens. Therefore, I was embarrassed when I would hear or see anything regarding transgender people. The summer of my junior year, my whole life changed. I was in the closet about my gender identity and it made me depressed. I could not talk to anyone about how I felt because people would disregard my thoughts, saying things like “You can wait a year,” or “That’s not a real thing you’re just confused.” People were invaliding the way I was feeling and it made me suicidal. It was not until I got out of the hospital that I realized that I was battling with gender dysphoria. I came to terms with my identity. Nevertheless, I had a huge decision to make. Approaching my senior year of basketball, being the top player and captain I did not know what to do. I had everything I dreamed of and I was planning to go to play professionally after my season was over. I was straggling with continuing to play my last year and hold off on my transition or start my transition medically and I would have to give up basketball. Basketball was my life and I did not know how to live without it. It was all I knew and it was scary to think about a life without basketball. I choose to pursue my medical transition despite what others thought. It was the best decision I ever made and it felt good to make a decision for myself.

          As a transman, being a part of the LGBTQ community means everything to me. Since I started my transition, I have learned how to appreciate the LGBT community more. I have had trials along my transition and I knew I could always rely on the LGBT Center on campus. Being openly a part of the LGBT community has made me confident enough to want to help more. I do not know all the answers and I am still learning along the way. I want to make a difference. I have been going to groups for the past year and telling other’s my story has given them the confidence to be true to themselves. I do not want to just help the LGBT community; I want to help people in general. No matter what is his or her race, gender, sexual orientation, or age, I want to help make a difference in someone life. Anyone I tell my story to they look at me like a  noble man or they tell me I am brave. I do not consider myself being anything but just Jalen. I realized that having everything does not mean a person will have true happiness. At least in my situation I had everything set up for me in regards of being an athlete. However, the only thing I was missing was living my life authentically. I realized that I could not go living my life a lie so I walked away from “everything”. 

          Despite all of the things going on affecting the LGBTQ community, I am optimistic that things will get better. I believe that things have to get worse to get better. I think the need in the LGBTQ community is more unity. We must come together and be stronger than ever to fight against the adversity. Our rights matter and we have to keep fighting until we see a win. I am thankful for everything that I have experienced so far, the good and the bad. It has made me a stronger individual and I want to continue making an impact on people’s lives. With some of my experiences, I have felt like I was on the outside looking in.  I do not want anyone to feel like they do not belong, and personally I will do my best to not make anyone feel that way. All I can do is continue to live my life authentically and hope that people will follow along. Life is great and we should not limit ourselves because of others opinions. 

Peace & Possibility Essay Contest Winners Runner Up - Kestin Page

Kestin Page

          The LGBTQ community is my family. To that effect, I feel it becomes all the more important for us to act as a family and care for each other. Within the LGBTQ community, I as a cisgender white male exist in a high status of privilege, opportunity, and access. Since the end of the fight for marriage equality, there has been a splintering of priorities within the community, and I think far too many gay men of similar backgrounds as myself checked out of the movement because they had achieved a level of homonormative privilege that enabled them to feel a level of relative equality within the broader society. Meanwhile the rights, and indeed very humanity, of transgender and gender nonconforming people have been consistently attacked and infringed, and far too many of us have sat in silent complicity. This isn’t how a family is supposed to be, and is a trend I feel must be resisted at every turn. 

          One of the greatest strengths of the LGBTQ community has always been our vastdiversity and our open embrace of each feather and each spangle, but the leadership within our community has far too often not reflected the depth of that diversity. I think it becomes an imperative that we make more intentional efforts to foster leadership within individuals who are marginalized across multiple axes of identity. We should be doing all that is in our power to uplift and amplify these voices and consistently showing up in support of each other. With these efforts I think we as a community, especially those of us with greater access and privilege, should be engaged in the perpetual work of examining our own level of privilege and working to break down these harmful systems of power. This is a task that is difficult and is something many of us who have the best intentions often fall short in. I am most certainly guilty of this, and have undoubtedly prioritized my own comfort at the expense of someone from less access or opportunity than myself. Confronting our self-interested complicity with oppression will always be difficult, but because it is difficult it should not deter us from doing what we must.

          I worry that moving forward the pressures to assimilate and stop highlighting our identities and experiences could lead to efforts to erase our identities from the public sphere. The increase in the level of attacks on trans folks, in legislatures, on television, social media, and on the streets, shows me how real the threat still is and underscores how important it is that we stand together in solidarity. Our fight for equity must be intersectional and embrace everyone. There are many efforts to divide us and cleave off the most vulnerable and marginalized. This is where I come back to my view of the LGBTQ community as my family; I may not agree or at times even like my family members, but when the chips are down I will always be there for them. Likewise, we must do all that is in our power to challenge forces of oppression and marginalization both in ourselves and in the world. History has shown how strong and persistent methods of division can be and our strongest resource is our mutual care and concern for each other. 

          It may be a cliché at this point to say that love will win, but I believe this to be true. Love wins every time, and is our greatest weapon. We must remain centered on this love ethic because as Bell Hooks said, “Without love, our efforts to liberate ourselves and our world community from oppression and exploitation are doomed.” Love must inform all our actions,and ground our understanding of our world. Love brings people together and reminds us of the importance of relationships and the value of collective efforts. This ethic of love must be unwavering, unconditional, and must never be abandoned. We should never allow ourselves to be drawn into debates about whether love might be withheld, or withdrawn, from some individuals. The choice is simple, regardless of what the future may hold we will stand united in love; love of self and love for each other.

Peace & Possibility Essay Contest Winners Runner Up - Andrew Crookston

Andrew Crookston

          Growing up gay and Mormon has been both confusing and difficult for me. I wrestled with two different parts of my identity that seemed incompatible. At a very young age - about six or seven - I remember feeling an attraction towards masculinity. This didn’t affect me much until I was twelve and that childish fascination turned into sexual attraction. My parents and brother found out that I was gay early on. I remember the horrible feeling of seeing my mom’s life filled with sleeplessness nights, tears and worry for her little boy. Through my teenage years, my mindset was that my sexuality was a trial of faith to overcome. I wished so desperately for some prayer I could say or some act of faith large enough to make it all go away.

          At a low point, my dad shared Ether 12:27 from the Book of Mormon with me and it became my mantra. “And if men come unto [Christ], [He] will show unto them their weakness…If they humble themselves before [Him], and have faith in [Him], then will [He] make weak things become strong unto them.” I believed that my weakness was my sexuality and I hoped that one day the Lord would turn that weakness into a strength by allowing me to be sexually attracted to women. While I always maintained an outwardly positive attitude, the reality of my circumstances made me feel lonely and isolated. I watched as my friends and siblings dated, and I could not have felt more alone. My sexuality became something that I hated about myself. It was the impurity that had to be refined, the shaft of the wheat that had to be cast off.

          In serving an LDS mission, I hoped that the sacrifice would finally be great enough to merit a miracle. Upon return to Ogden, I tried dating women more seriously and was only met with disappointment. I could not bring myself to feel an intimate attraction towards any of them and eventually gave up. I realized that this was more than a trial of my faith, it was a reality that would not change. For the following two years, I struggled with depression and anxiety. Thankfully, I never came to the point of self-harm because of the constant love and support of my family. I wanted a meaningful relationship with someone, and yet, I wanted so badly to not be gay. It was still a part of me that I could not accept. 

          Things began to change, however, over the course of many months and because of many talks with my parents, siblings, and friends. In February of this year, I decided to come out, understanding the sacrifice it would bring with my religion and many of my relationships. I believe that a young person identifying as LGBTQ sets them on a journey that envelops the whole family on a course to discover exactly what that means for both the individual but also the family as a unit. I am grateful that my family chose to make that difficult journey with me, and it has ultimately led us to be stronger and more united. My path is only bearable because I have them at my side.

          As I move forward I am learning to accept my sexuality as an essential part of who I am, not because I chose it but because of circumstances I was not able to change. The term LGBTQ is no longer something for me to be ashamed and afraid of. Rather, it is a strength and requires courage and determination to live in society openly. I would like to add my voice to LGBTQ Mormons, post-Mormons, and those not affiliated with the LDS church who seek to draw attention to and find a solution for the serious problem of teen suicide in Utah. In order to move forward, religious leaders and the LGBTQ community must seek common ground and radically change how LGBTQ topics are addressed. I would hope that new generations will grow up understanding what it means to be LGBTQ, without feeling shame or feeling as though they have to hide it. Change is needed so that LGBTQ teens grow up with positive images of themselves and have supportive, loving networks. LGBTQ topics must not be taboo or pushed off the table, and the question of how we, as a community, may form a more supportive and accepting society must be sought.

WAS THE “UTAH COMPROMISE” THE BEGINNING OF A BLUER UTAH?

Even in one of the reddest states in the Union, progressive legislation is resonating with Utah’s citizens and lawmakers. In the past two years, the super-majority Republican legislature has enacted laws that might be more likely found in our “bluer” neighbor, Colorado. Laws such as: drug enforcement changes that are more compassionate than hard-lined, stricter seatbelt laws, tax increases to fund transportation, and gay-rights protections. It is the latter issue that might be of most surprise in the deep red and deeply religious state, and an accomplishment honored by the American Unity Fund.

The American Unity Fund is a group dedicated to advancing the cause of freedom for LGBT Americans by making the conservative case that freedom truly means freedom for everyone. In May, Equality Utah and various Utah lawmakers received an award from the organization “In honor of bipartisan leadership in the campaign for freedom from discrimination for LGBT Utahns.” Brandi Balken, Sen. Jim Dabakis, Sen. Curt Branble, and Equality Utah were recognized for their work on Senate Bill 296: Antidiscrimination and Religious Freedoms Amendments. SB 296 was a landmark piece of legislation baring discrimination in employment and housing based on a persons gender identity or sexual orientation. It also allows for the expression of religious beliefs and commitments within the workplace as long as they are “reasonable” and not disruptive or harassing. The “Utah Compromise” received the baking of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, LGBTQ groups such as Equality Utah and the Utah Pride Center, and 85% of the legislature, passing in March of 2015.

 

Passing comprehensive antidiscrimination legislation protecting the LGBT community while balancing religious liberties has been an equilibrium other Republican-controlled states have struggled to find. Indiana, for example, passed a “religious liberties” bill that was seen as too broad and protected discrimination on the basis of religious beliefs. Within weeks of it being passed, Indiana’s governor had to sign a revised version of the bill because of the backlash to the law. Utah’s “compromise” is recognized by the American Liberty Fund as being the gold standard in addressing the concerns of both sides and finding a solution that is adequate and protects all.

Can more progressive legislation like the “Utah Compromise” pass moving forward? Is Utah no longer a deep red state, but becoming a little more pink? Arguably, yes.

In the past legislative session, issues such as medical cannabis and stricter hate-crime laws were debated and nearly passed one or both chambers. As recently as five years ago, the thought of these issues coming to the House or Senate floor would have been unimaginable or considered political suicide. As Utah’s population becomes more diverse and younger, though, ideological divides, at least on social issues, seem to be changing. In the upcoming legislative session, gun control legislation restricting someone with a violent crime conviction from obtaining a gun will be introduced, and looks like it will pass. A “death with dignity” bill to expand end of life options for those individuals with terminal illness will be reintroduced and looks to be gaining support.

The accomplishments of the LGBTQ community legislatively with the passage of SB 296 has opened the door for more compassionate, progressive legislation. The work of groups like Equality Utah and the Pride Center has changed minds and opened eyes to humanizing issues, not keeping them theoretical. Following this model, the chance for progress and changes to the laws with a focus on compassion for Utah’s citizens seems more real than ever.

Jane and Tami Marquardt are proud progressives and supporters of Equality Utah. Being a part of the signing of SB 296 has been a highlight in their personal and professional careers and they look forward to working toward a more equitable society for women and LGBTQ individuals through their charitable givings.

JANE MARQUARDT HONORED WITH WEBER STATE UNIVERSITY PRESIDENT’S AWARD

Jane Marquardt was one of 10 distinguished alumni and community members recognized at the 48th Annual Weber State University Salutes ceremony. The annual event took place during the school’s Homecoming Week to honor notable acts of community service, accomplishments, and/or leadership. Seven awards are handed out, of which, Marquardt was presented with the President’s Award.

University President Chuck Wight called the Honorees “champions of Weber State and shining examples of humanity.”

Marquardt thanked Weber State for “having offered me many opportunities over the decades to come to campus, participate in lectures and debates, and find my courage and my voice to be an advocate for the rights of LGBTQ people.”

She also noted that “the most important part of Weber State is the opportunities it provides for people to learn from each other and build relationships. I celebrate the people here tonight and the many relationships we have created and continue to create together.”

Marquardt was recognized for her long engagement with and commitment to Weber State University. In the early 1980s, Marquardt taught a community education course and served on the university’s board of trustees, and in 1993, she generously established the Phoenix Achievement Scholarship for women. Since it was established, it has provided financial assistance to over 25 students.

Jane and her spouse, Tami, also established the Marquardt Peace & Possibility Speaker Series as a part of the Weber State’s LGBT Resource Center which will celebrate its second anniversary next February.

In the community, Marquardt helped organize and present the first training on LGBT issues for all Utah judges. She has served and currently serves on many community boards for organizations, such as United Way of Salt Lake and Equality Utah.

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