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‘Inclusive’ Olympics win praise

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Salt Lake City ? recognized for its conservative status as headquarters of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints ? is being praised by national and Utah gay-rights organizations for hosting an inclusive Olympic Games.

It's seemingly strange praise since many gay groups have bemoaned Salt Lake's culture, which is greatly influenced by the LDS Church ? a religion that denounces homosexuality as sinful.

Tuesday, at a downtown hotel, members of the Human Rights Campaign were scheduled to join leaders in the Utah gay and lesbian community in lauding Salt Lake's Olympic organizers for including them in Olympic planning.

"Basically, we just want to thank the Salt Lake Organizing Committee for including Salt Lake's gay community in the organizing of the Games," said David M. Smith, communications director of HRC, which touts itself as the nation's largest gay and lesbian political organization.

SLOC went out of its way to include homosexuals in Olympic planning, Salt Lake's gay leaders said.

Most notably, organizers held three recruiting sessions during which they asked for gay volunteers.

The three recruiting sessions, held at the Gay and Lesbian Community Center of Utah, encouraged the homosexual community to become Olympic volunteers or employees and asked gay men and women to open up their homes to families of athletes visiting for the 2002 Winter Games.

"I definitely think SLOC did a good job," said Paula Wolfe, executive director of the center. "It is fairly unprecedented that we've had an organizing committee make that commitment or outreach."

Two members of Utah's gay community, Michael Marriott and Laura Milliken Gray were also included on SLOC's "Volunteer Work Group," which was charged with encouraging minority groups to become involved in the Olympic movement.

Smith said SLOC was the first U.S. Olympic organizing committee to ask for participation from gay groups.

E-MAIL: bsnyder@desnews.com