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Sexual politics are still building in Utah

Homosexual activists seeing some changes in community

Activists for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community said Tuesday they have seen changes since Utah altered its constitution to ban gay marriage, and building a constituency will continue to be a top item on their political agenda.

Conservative legislators and advocacy groups and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints were selected as targets for the political activism, though members of a panel speaking at the Hinckley Institute of Politics said they have seen positive changes in the way the LDS Church and its members discuss homosexual and transgender issues. What used to be the "unspeakable sin" is now discussed in a way that "people relate better to me," said Mel Nimer, president of the Utah Log Cabin Republicans, who describes himself as a gay former member of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.

"We need people, all of you, all of your families," Nimer said, emphasizing political activism. "We cannot get anything done until we unite behind these issues and get something resolved."

Because the LDS Church has made "softening statements" about homosexuals, "church members are more comfortable being accepting," said Jackie Biskupski, D-Salt Lake, and one of three openly homosexual Utah legislators. That said, "there is work to be done among the predominant religious leaders as well."

Will Carlson, manager of public policy for Equality Utah, said changes he has seen since passage of Amendment 3 include a shift in mentality among elected officials from reacting to homosexuals as "one of those" to "what is their position and what are their needs?"

Much of the political and media discussion following passage of Amendment 3, which identifies marriages as between a man and a woman and which prohibits other relationships from having legal benefits afforded in marriage relationships, has speculated about the nature and cost of legal challenges to the constitutional change.

Biskupski said trying to change the amendment is "not on the radar right now," and that Utahns would be better served by letting the initial legal battles over gay marriage rights play out in other states so their case law can then be used in Utah.

Regarding the constitutional amendment, "we have to build a coalition of support over the years to reverse that vote," she said. "Once our community gets that support, we can go to the hill, and it will still be a battle."

She estimated it would take another decade for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender coalition to cause the kind of change it would like to see in the Utah Legislature.

Other panelists at the University of Utah's Hinckley Institute forum Tuesday were Becky Moss, secretary to the board of the Utah Stonewall Democrats, and Christopher Scuderi, executive director of Transgender Education Advocates.