Two Degrees off Center: Pride 2020 Style

November 22, 2020

Two Degrees off Center” is a monthly blog by Rich Keys about the personal struggles, issues, and topics that speak to the LDS/LGBT experience.  Sometimes it will be serious, sometimes humorous, but will always approach things from a slightly different perspective.

Rainbow Pride Abstract Art

by Rich Keys

Many years ago, comedian Steve Allen was in Salt Lake City for a concert performance, and in the middle of his standup routine, he asked the audience, “Is it just me, or is there something about the people of Utah that’s just…well…a little bit…strange?” Immediate chuckles of agreement from the audience. He was glad it wasn’t just him, and he told the story of being in the baggage area at Salt Lake International Airport the previous day. A little ol’ lady came up to him and asked, “Excuse me, do you know how to get to the nearest public library?” He said, “No, I’m sorry, I don’t, I’m just visiting.” She then replied, “Well, you go straight out Airport Blvd, take I-80 East, go to Exit 121 and then to W 600 E….” Huge laugh from the audience. But the laughter lasted much longer than in other cities where he told that joke, because the more the locals thought about it, the more examples they thought of that made this so true.

Utah has taken the scriptural phrase, “a peculiar people,” and made it their own. They’ve rebranded it, turning it from something unique and special into something odd, quirky, even strange or bizarre sometimes. But you really have to have lived among the natives there for a while to fully understand and appreciate the culture that drives all of this. Green Jello is the official state snack. Funeral potatoes are served on your birthday, and it’s a good thing. Fry Sauce is just mayo and ketchup but heralded as Utah’s own. The separation of church and state still seems up for debate. The Salt Lake City Council votes unanimously to rename 900 East, a major city street in the shadow of Temple Square, Harvey Milk Blvd, and the state legislature seems on its way to bringing back polygamy again, reducing the punishment for it to the level of a simple parking ticket (but fraudulent bigamy is still a felony).

This quirky culture extends beyond the state border to other pockets throughout the Intermountain West, including BYU-Idaho, in the small town of Rexburg. Ever since it was reinvented and expanded in 2001 from Rick’s College, a two-year community college, to BYU-Idaho, a four-year university with more direct ties to BYU-Provo, it’s adopted this same strange quirky culture.

Recently I read in USA Today that students at BYU-Idaho are actually trying to intentionally get COVID-19 so they can sell their antibodies for spare cash. Nearby centers are offering $200 per visit for convalescent plasma to help patients who are seriously ill from the coronavirus. Since our Fearless Leader in Washington has declared all youth are practically immune from getting the disease or its serious effects (just ask Barron), and we believe in obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law no matter what he says, the students can go forth with this plan, knowing they’re also exercising their civic duty, serving their fellow man, and demonstrating their faith in God (the one in heaven, not in DC). The sick people get well, the students get some pocket change… It’s Win-Win.

Unfortunately, the old coots in Administration put their knee on the students’ collective throats and said anyone found intentionally spreading COVID-19 will be suspended and possibly expelled from campus. Ironically, according to the Honor Code, that’s the same penalty for masturbating.

I put down my paper, scratched my head, and asked myself again, “so, WHY am I still in this church?” I think my pendulum just swung a little further left.

It’s not only the quirky things that make for a peculiar people, but also the actions from the ivory tower that sometimes seem driven more by a Magic 8-ball instead of divine guidance. Case in point: The November 2015 policy in which legally married same-sex members were suddenly deemed apostate and eligible for excommunication. In addition, none of their children could be baptized or hold the priesthood until they reached age 18, renounced their parents’ lifestyle, and moved out of their house…and after all that, if they still wanted to get baptized, their application would have to be personally approved by the First Presidency. A huge pushback by gay and straight alike resulted in thousands officially leaving the church, others going inactive, and many active members extremely troubled by the change.

Then just four years later (a nanosecond for changes in this church), the Brethren officially reversed course, removing all the changes and hitting a reset back to things as they were before 2015. Unfortunately, they couldn’t undo all the ill will, bad publicity, and the negative effect it had on members’ testimonies throughout the church. To make matters worse, they didn’t apologize for any of it, but simply stated they had received further inspiration. Indeed, Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the First Presidency has previously declared on the record that they don’t apologize for actions or policy changes, but just focus on the future and move on.

Like I said, a peculiar people.

Now we are in the wild and wacky world of 2020. Every year for as long as I can remember, famous people have been hosting New Year’s Eve celebrations on TV and saying, “I’m so glad this year is finally over. Next year has got to be better.” Another year goes by, and we say the same thing again. But this year was different. This year everything turned odd, quirky, strange or bizarre, even tragic—anything but normal, and by June, most of us were ready to give up on the year, flip the calendar, and move on to 2021. Gay Pride was no exception. Throughout the world, all things Pride were shut down, canceled, or reduced to a virtual reality online, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

One of my goals is to get to Salt Lake Pride and watch that parade down Harvey Milk Blvd. in the shadows of Temple Square, and soak it all in—the irony, the compatibility, seeing that we really can drop our torches and pitchforks and come together, and march into hell for a heavenly cause. I had planned to attend this year, but due to the pandemic, people were asked not to crowd together for a typical parade. Instead, a road rally was held in downtown Salt Lake with participants either in their cars or watching online. I won’t take things for granted so much in the future, nor will I keep putting things off until another day that never comes. So I’ll make it a priority to be there when it comes back.

But this year, in lieu of the traditional parade and celebration, I’m doing what I can to celebrate that parade at the intersection of LDS and LGBTQ—that odd, quirky culture that, for better or worse, starts in Utah and extends far beyond its borders.

I am hereby submitting, for your consideration, what I consider to be the Top-10 Picket Signs for this year’s Pride at LDS and LGBTQ—a virtual celebration of what was, is, and what the future may hold. They use my silly critters to make the point a little easier to accept. If I step on toes, I apologize in advance. They are not meant to build walls, but to tear them down and bring us a little closer together.

Top-10 Picket Signs of LDS/LGBTQ Pride 2020

10. LDSQ
LGBTM
9. Stop the Stereotypes! I only have one husband!
8. Missionary Work ≠ LDS Conversion Therapy
7. Some of my best friends are straight
6. LDS: A peculiar people
LGBT: A queer people
5. It’s a gay thing…you wouldn’t understand
It’s a Mormon thing…you wouldn’t understand
It’s complicated
4. Green Jello? That’s SO Gay!
3. Love your out son or daughter like you want God to love you
2. Equality does NOT mean separate but equal bathrooms

And the #1 Top-10 Picket Sign of LDS/LGBTQ Pride 2020:
1. I survived COVID-19 and NOVEMBER ’15.

If you enjoyed this post, be sure to check out all posts in the Two Degrees off Center blog series.

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