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Salt Lake City Weekly Morality Plays

Repealing Salt Lake City's gay-protection ordinance is an outcome of Mormon politics.

By John Harrington

JANUARY 20, 1998:  Scott was freaking out. The night before, he had had a dream that he would soon die. I walked into the restaurant where he worked for lunch and he pulled me into a private room to tell me something I didn't know: Scott had AIDS.

He told me he was dying. He began to cry. I began to cry. He needed a lift to the University of Utah Medical Center. I cleared the junk off my front passenger seat and he climbed in. We drove up 300 South.

"This is it," he said, pounding the dashboard with his clenched right fist. "It's pretty goddamned unfair." Scott lived with his sister, a single mom, and her little daughter, whom Scott said was "like my own kid," in a beautifully decorated, large, airy apartment in one of those old, elegant downtown brick apartment buildings.

"We have worked so hard," he cried, "to make a good life there. I don't know what my sister and my niece are going to do, they need me to work."

Scott, a brilliant man, toiled as a waiter and at other things open to uncloseted gay men in our brutally judgmental society to earn his cash. He could have, by the time he knew he was doomed, saved a lot money for his sister and his niece and had fat insurance benefits if he would have had the same broad chances at a lucrative career that well-educated people, who are not openly gay, have. But, he didn't.

I pulled up to the front of the Medical Center, got out, walked around the car and gave my friend a good, long hug good-bye. He walked through the door ...

Salt Lake City Councilman Bryce Jolley seems like a decent guy. He runs a neighborhood pharmacy that also rents videos and sells gifts, one of those old-fashioned, middle-America kind of operations you'd have seen everywhere during the 1950s.

It's a sure bet that Jolley's Pharmacy has dispensed plenty of high-priced prescription drugs to HIV-infected gay men over the years.

Jolley told me the other day he has a long-standing love of the theater and entertainment where, he said, he knows he is often in the company of "many gays."

In fact, I had a long talk with Jolley. I wanted to write a piece to let the world know he isn't a buddy of the nutcase Gayle Ruzicka, that he's not a crazed right-wing bigot.

Jolley happens to represent my Salt Lake City Council district. I voted for him two years ago but now I'm confused. I don't understand why the formerly even-tempered Jolley now appears like something akin to a rabid dog over the inclusion of the words "sexual orientation" in Salt Lake City's Anti-Discrimination Ordinance.

Jolley has spearheaded an all-Mormon, all-white-male repeal of the recent inclusion of those words in that law, which is specifically designed to protect the people most susceptible to illegal discrimination in city employment matters.

Jolley began with the same line he has used in public — that the ordinance passed last December by the former City Council was a "bad law" and that process was abused when it was "forced" through over his objections by a 5-2 vote.

But, after a while, Jolley and I connected on the underlying issue behind his very-high-profile fight over the two little words "sexual orientation." The staunchly LDS Jolley is flat morally opposed to homosexuality. He thinks practicing "homosexuals" live an immoral life.

"It's not just the LDS community that supports me on this," Jolley said, "lots of people support me on this."

And Jolley is very angry.

"I have been called a bigot and a homophobe. I have had six or seven customers call me and say, 'We don't want to do business with a bigot.' Can you imagine?" he asked.

"Nobody will condemn that action toward me, but if I decided to come out of the closet and reveal I was gay, if people started calling my business saying they wouldn't do business with me because I am homosexual, they'd be screaming and yelling from the gay community. So, it's reverse discrimination against me."

Jolley said he does not understand why the uproar aimed at him is so great. He said "gays and lesbians do fine in Salt Lake City." He said the ordinance flap "plays right into their hands."

"I think, if anything," Jolley told me, "the gays and lesbians should be very happy with the [recent] notoriety that's been generated about them in the world capital of the Mormon Church. For this ordinance to be passed in Salt Lake City, the capital of the Mormon Church, is like asking the Vatican City Council to pass an ordinance endorsing abortion."

Jolley insisted he has tried hard to separate his personal religious/moral views from his actions as the chairman of the Salt Lake City Council. But, he is bitter toward former Council Chairwoman Deeda Seed and Councilwoman Joann Milner for pushing the ordinance in the first place, because "they knew I was morally opposed to it, so they wouldn't let me speak," he said.

To beat them, Jolley said he "informally" urged other Mormon members of the new council to support the repeal. Before the law was passed by the former council, he called Milner, also a Mormon, to remind her of the Mormon Church's position on homosexuality — but it didn't work.

"Joann knows the church's position well," Jolley said, "but when she's made her mind up on something, you can't change it."

Jolley said he is "sad that I am offending so many of my gay friends in the theater community, but I don't regret a single thing I've done. I would not change a single thing."

But, it's been very costly: The council is permanently divided. The city and the state are once more awash in the worst kind of publicity. We are all "closed-minded bigots" under the tar brush of national scrutiny, especially with the Olympics coming. "I know this will get [bad] publicity. There's nothing I can do about it," Jolley said.

Moral convictions are stronger than bad ink, and Jolley has voted his convictions.

Mainly, it's sad. In the end, what stuck with me most about my talk with Bryce was that he only referred to "gays, lesbians" or "homosexuals." He never referred to them as people, even though he said he had "gay friends."

I thought about his way of talking about non-heterosexual human beings, like they were objects, not living souls, long after we hung up. "It's the way he was brought up," I told myself. "Can you really hold it against him?" I wondered.

I don't know the answer to that one.

More than anything, the talk made me think about Scott pounding his fist on my dashboard on the way to the hospital. That's who I thought about, my friend Scott, who is dead.


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