Saturday, July 18, 2009

Oh, Say What Is Truth?

So in a previous post I talked about the news story where two gay men were cited for trespassing after becoming belligerent and refusing to leave the LDS Main Street Plaza after being asked to leave because they had engaged in inappropriate behavior. What that behavior exactly was is now subject to speculation.

The LDS Church came out with the following statement Friday regarding the incident:

There has been a good deal of publicity surrounding an incident where two men were cited for trespassing because of belligerent and profane behavior on the Church Plaza, which is an extension of the Salt Lake City Temple grounds and Church headquarters. While this property is owned by the Church, we want it to be a place of beauty and serenity in downtown Salt Lake City for everyone.

As we said earlier on this matter, these men were asked to stop engaging in behavior deemed inappropriate for any couple on the Plaza. There was much more involved than a simple kiss on the cheek. They engaged in passionate kissing, groping, profane and lewd language, and had obviously been using alcohol. They were politely told that the Plaza was not the place for such behavior and asked to stop. When they became belligerent, the two individuals were asked to leave Church property. Church security detained them and Salt Lake City police were called.
There is nothing satisfying in learning that there have been problems for anyone on Church property. We hope the Plaza will continue to be an asset to the community and enjoyed by the many that cross it each day.

Okay, so somebody isn’t being completely honest here, and it’s either the LDS Church security officers, the gay couple, or a combination of the two. I’m not even saying that anyone is blatantly lying, either. It’s also possible that actions or points-of-view on both sides have been subject to misinterpretation. And since this is a case of “he said”/”he said,” it’s not likely we’ll ever know the full truth of what occurred. In reading updated information on what occurred, here in The Salt Lake Tribune and here in The Deseret News, everything is not as clear cut as I felt it was in my previous entry. In the original story, Derek Jones said he and Matt Aune were walking home, holding hands, and said, “Matt paused to say something to me and hugged and kissed me.” In the police report, the reporting officer says that Matt “said they sat down and he gave Derek a kiss,” which is also what The Deseret News reports. When the couple was on the news, Matt demonstrated how he kissed Derek, which was just a kiss on the cheek, but the Tribune reports that it was a “kiss on the face,” and the Church’s statement is that the couple “engaged in passionate kissing” and “groping.”

In the Tribune article, Matt Aune says, “I guess they consider hugging groping. Regardless of if a kiss is on the cheek or on the lips, it still is not inappropriate -- unless you are gay, according to the LDS Church.” So was it a kiss on the cheek or a kiss on the mouth? Was it a short peck or was it sustained, passionate kissing? Were they on their way out of the plaza or did they stop to take a break or, as some have accused, were they even baiting church security or trying to make a statement? Had they had a simple drink or were they intoxicated? Were the guards justified in their actions or were they overzealous and insensitive? Do the answers to these questions matter?

It is fairly clear to me that once asked to leave the plaza, the gay couple (or at least Matt, as far as I can tell) became belligerent and uncooperative and did use profanity. It is for these reason they were detained, perhaps manhandled, and eventually cited. Some people are saying they were arrested or handcuffed or “slammed to the ground” or cited because of the kissing incident. No, they were detained and cited for refusing to leave (i.e. trespassing). Now whether or not I agree with the Church’s rules on the private plaza or whether I agreed with the sale in the first place (for the record, I didn’t), the fact is the city of Salt Lake did sell it to them, and they now own it, and they can create or enforce whatever rules they see fit, I suppose. Some of these rules include no sunbathing, no skateboarding, skating, or bicycling, no profanity, and no inappropriate behavior. The couple was evidently using profane language and was also refusing to leave the property, so that’s why the cops were called and why the couple was cited for trespassing. I’m fine with that.

If the couple was making out, and it wasn’t a simple peck on the cheek and holding hands then I also would say the LDS Church isn’t being discriminatory because I know straight couples have been asked to stop and/or leave for the same reason. However, if it was a case of hand holding and a peck on the cheek and that was it, then I disapprove of the way the matter was handled because it does seem discriminatory to me.

Although I am all for gay rights, my gut feeling at this time is that I’m leaning towards believing the Church in this matter. I find it hard to believe the Church would come out with such a statement if they didn’t know they had something to back it up. I’m not sure, but I would suspect they have security cameras on the plaza, and if they have reviewed the footage, they would have a leg to stand on in this case. I also sense that the story subtly changes the more we hear from Derek Jones and Matt Aune, which doesn’t exactly fill me with confidence.

Please don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying church security handled this incident as well as maybe it could have nor do I think there is even a problem with two men kissing in public. I also strongly feel that no matter what happened, members of church security did show a great lack of sensitivity and perhaps ignorance in the matter. To say the kissing itself was “unwanted” or “gross” or that they (security) “don’t come to your house and make-out on your property,” quotes that have been stated in accounts from the police report, Derek Jones’ own account, and news stories, well, I do think that shows a lack of sensitivity.

I also can understand why the gay couple was upset. While some anti-gay individuals say that the couple should have either known better or that they were, in fact, baiting the LDS Church or making a statement of some kind, it would certainly not be beyond the realm of possibility that this is a couple who simply love each other who were coming home from a fun night, forgetting in the moment where they were and simply were showing the same affection for each other that a straight couple might. It was late at night, and there were few, if any, people on the plaza. I think if they had really wanted to make some sort of statement, it would have been more effective to make if there had been more people around. But I’m not denying there is the possibility these two guys were on the plaza saying, “Hey, I love you. Won’t it be great if I show that love in the one place I know it will piss people off?” I tend to believe they were just having a good time and weren’t necessarily thinking about where they were or if their actions would have negative consequences, and when confronted, they became understandably defensive.

No matter what happened, I think there was poor behavior exhibited by both parties (i.e. Church security and the gay couple). Both did things that I feel make the Mormon church and gay people or gay rights activists, respectively, look bad.

And if Church security isn’t being fully honest about the situation, and it comes out, boy, is that going to be big trouble for the LDS Church.

My main opinion on this story is that I don’t think there is anything wrong with displaying one’s affection publicly, whether one be straight or gay (although I am not interested in seeing public make-out sessions from either homosexuals or heterosexuals), and although I don’t agree with the Church’s views on homosexuality, I also think that as the owner of private property, they have every right to dictate whatever rules they like and ask people to leave if they aren’t following those rules. For example, I have friends who smoke marijuana, and if they wish to engage in that activity, that is their right, but I wouldn’t be comfortable allowing that activity in my own house. Granted, marijuana is illegal and homosexuality is not, but I hope you get my point.

I do think if the Church applies completely different standards to heterosexual and homosexual couples, that can get into a dangerous area. Whatever the rules are, I think they should apply to all equally. I also think the Church would do well to say exactly what those rules are since at the moment, some of them seem vague to me. And I do think it’s very possible that Church security treated this couple differently because they were gay, even if they insisted that wasn’t the case. If that is true, and I actually believe it is, I think that’s wrong and contrary to the spirit of what Christ taught.

One thing that has really bothered me about this issue is the backlash I see in the comment boards on the websites of The Deseret Newsand The Salt Lake Tribune and in letters to the editor and in other articles I’ve seen. I saw this same behavior during the Prop. 8 debate and when Chris Buttars made ignorant remarks about gay people.

I am continually disheartened by what I see as an undercurrent of hatefulness and ignorance. These issues have really shown me the ugly side of people on both sides of the issue. It genuinely saddens me to see people on both sides of the issue treat each other with such contempt and viciousness. I believe it is possible to disagree on an issue, whatever it may be, and still maintain civility, decorum, and respect.

I remember when Senator Chris Buttars compared gays to radical Muslims, said we were the greatest threat in America, and compared our sexual practices to pig sex. At that time, many in the Utah Senate defended Senator Buttars, and there was a letter to the editor in the Tribune that said:

Had the anti-gay comments by Sen.Chris Buttars, R-West Jordan, been directed at blacks, Jews, women or Mormons, he would have been forced to apologize and resign immediately. These groups all share a common thread with the gay lesbian bisexual transgender community -- they are not the same as everyone else, and it isn't a matter they had any choice in. They have different beliefs, colors, lifestyles and means of creating a family unit. These differences don't make any of them a threat to America. It's hatred and lack of acceptance that are the greatest threats to society. Buttars embodies both of these values.
When the rest of the Utah Senate stand behind their colleague and his right to serve, and admit that they agree with some of his statements, but refuse to say which ones, they all need to be called out ("Buttars asks: Why should I apologize?" Tribune , Feb. 21). These people represent all of us to the rest of the world.
Living on Planet Utah has become an embarrassment.

Lisa Viehweg


I agreed with the writer of the letter at the time (still do). What I didn’t agree with (as is often the case when I read the comment boards on the Tribune's site and (although less often) the Deseret News) is the name-calling and childish behavior exhibited by many of the commentors. I don't care whether you're for gay rights or against it; whether you believe homosexuality is a sin or whether you think there's nothing morally wrong with it; resorting to name-calling, insults, and mean-spirited behavior is uncalled for and, frankly, counterproductive.

Among the things I read at that time were the generalized statement that all Mormons hate gay people; a query as to whether Chris Buttars' wife has to get drunk and put a bag over her husband's head in order to stand having sexual relations with him; the insinuation that bigotry against Mormons is justified, but against gays it isn't; disparaging personal comments against a particular letter writer simply because she disagreed with homosexuality (the letter writer basically called her a hateful bigot who had no soul and compared her to Hitler (happily, those comments were removed)); sarcastic comments about the temple garment; accusations that Mormons can't think for themselves, etc.

Over at the Deseret News site, I read comments that equated homosexuality with bestiality, incest, and pedophilia; accusations that the gays were coming after your children; accusations that homosexuals are weak-willed and moral deviants; accusations that gay people are "godless" or don't love god; calls to leave the state of Utah if you don't like it here; labels of gays being "children of the devil," etc.

With this new plaza controversy I have read much of the same: terrible and ignorant words full of hate directed towards Mormons by anti-Mormons and gay activists and terrible and ignorant words of hate directed towards gay people by members of the church I used to belong to and still love and carry a great deal of love and devotion towards.

I just find all of this insulting and ignorant behavior so counterproductive and completely contrary to what I believe Christ taught. I have to say that the pro-gay rights people whose remarks I have read seem to be full of more vitriol and mean-spiritedness than the anti-gay rights faction (although I have read many remarks that are just plain ignorant and, yes, some that are just as mean-spirited as those of the pro-gay faction). The Tribune's comment boards are generally far more heated and nasty than the Deseret News (although I have also read many comments from Mormons that I find abhorrent). I know people supporting gay rights are angry, and they have every reson to be, but I find it so hypocritical of those demanding tolerance to be so intolerant themselves. Disagree all you want, but when you start making personal and generalized attacks, I think you become just as bigoted as the people you're accusing of being bigots. Don't think I'm excusing the anti-gay faction, either, because I'm not. I'm never seen such a self-righteous, hypocritical group of people than the ones who claim to espouse Christian beliefs while spewing hate and ignorance.

The bottom line is that neither group will ever convince the other to even listen to their point of view if they can't discuss the issues civilly. Have you ever worked retail? When a customer is yelling at you and calling you names and insulting you, does that make you feel more prone to help them? It certainly didn't make me feel that way when I did retail. I was far more inclined to help people that treated me with courtesy and respect. It's the difference between a civil debate and a heated argument. Yelling at your spouse and digging at them is less apt to solve communication problems than if you discuss a sensitive matter with each other in a calm, respectful manner. Disagree all you want, but no one will ever listen to you if you're insulting them or things that are important to them. Gay rights are important to gay people, and Mormonism and Mormon beliefs are important to Mormons. If one group picks at the other and insults the things most precious to them, do you really expect them to listen to you or even respect you or your opinion?

I have a pretty good knack (although not perfect by any means) of being able to see things from other people's points of view, even if I disagree with them. Take Chris Buttars, for example. I do not defend his actions by any means. I find much of what he says distasteful, and I think he can be very ignorant about many things and say things in a very tactless way. I do happen to think that he is a bigot with some very prejudiced and uneducated views about certain things such as race and sexuality. I think comparing gay sex to "pig sex" or comparing homosexuals to Muslim extremists is very distasteful and wrong. I believe his assertion that gay people are the "greatest threat to America today" is uninformed and terribly biased. I think his use of "the gays" or "the gay" is uneducated. I think many of his ideas are antiquated. But one thing he said was that gays are the meanest people he has met, and if he gets the kind of letters from the pro-gay faction that I imagine he gets, I can see why he would draw that conclusion. If more of us would be kinder, it might not make a difference to Buttars, but at least it would prevent us from stooping to his level. When we use insults and foul language and nastiness, we become exactly what we accuse him of being. How does that make us any better?

Should Chris Buttars have been reprimanded? Do I wish we would resign or be relieved of his position? Does he need to take responsibility for actions which are tactless and even hateful? Yes, yes, and yes. But he is still a human being (admittedly, one I do not care for), and whether he is a distasteful human being, I still think I would rather take the high road and treat him the way I wish he would treat me than call him names and insult his wife (who my mom works with at the temple and who my mom says has been nothing but nice to her). A man in my ward was once close friends with Chris Buttars. He does not agree with his manner of expressing himself, and found the situation I referred to so sad. I don't hate Chris Buttars, although I do pity him, and I do wish he could see past his prejudice and get to know the people he thinks he hates.

I wish that for all people. I wish anti-Mormons could get to know the good, decent Mormons and see that there are some really good, kind people in that religion. I wish the anti-gays could really get to know the good and kind gay people and see that there is a lot of good in them. I wish church security had been kinder to the gay couple. I wish the gay couple had been kinder to the church security members who stopped them.

You know, a friend of mine calls me a “conundrum.” I suppose he’s right. I am openly gay and have been in a relationship with Jonah for over three years, and the two of us recently had our commitment ceremony in December here in the great state of Utah. I’ve also recently been excommunicated from the LDS Church. But I was also raised Mormon and still love my religion very much and still attend my ward every Sunday I am able to. My bishop and stake president were both aware of my relationship and always showed great compassion in regards to my being gay and my relationship with Jonah. The members of my family, all who are active Mormons, have been nothing but supportive of me and welcoming of Jonah.

When I tell people this, there are some who don’t understand why I would choose to still devote my time to a church that preaches against homosexuality and which is viewed as one that actively fights against gay rights. I don’t expect people to necessarily understand. It’s complicated. All I can say is something I’ve said repeatedly in this blog: that my religion has made me as much the person I am today as my sexuality has, and I owe some of my most positive values and traits to both. I understand very much what it’s like to be caught in the middle; to be on both sides of the fence. I very much support gay rights, but I also maintain a great deal of loyalty to my religious beliefs and the church to which I still feel I belong.

I think so much of the bigotry, hate, and intolerance that exists in the world arises out of fear, ignorance, and misunderstanding. Whether you’re prejudiced towards somebody because of their race, their sex, their sexual orientation, their religion or lack of it, their political beliefs, or what-have-you, I think the root of the problem is failing to at least try to understand somebody and their points-of-view. Granted, some people make that difficult to do at times, but I think so many of the problems we have with prejudice have to do with a failure to understand one another or when we’re so locked into our own position that we can’t even be moved to try and see someone else’s.

From my own experience, I think there are many Mormons (and other Christians, too) out there that are so locked into a certain belief system (a kind of warped Christianity (it’s certainly not the Christianity I know)) that they become hypocritical, judgmental, prideful, and self-righteous. On the flip-side, I, of course, know many Mormons and other people of Christian faiths who are loving, compassionate, humble, and nonjudgmental individuals. I have many of them in my life and am inspired by their great examples. I know many gay people who are in loving, committed relationships who simply want the same legal rights that are afforded to others. On the flip-side, I know some irresponsible gay people who engage in practices that are dangerous to others and themselves, and I also know gay people who are more intolerant than the people they accuse of being intolerant towards them. I know people who are social drinkers and are very responsible when it comes to their consumption of alcohol, and I know people who abuse alcohol, and a good friend of mine is in prison right now because he accidentally killed someone due to that abuse. I know Democrats and Republicans who can civilly discuss issues with one another and who try to work together for the common good even if they don’t always agree on how to do it. On the flip-side, I know Republicans and Democrats who are far more interested in being right than in solving problems and will go out of their way to thwart a good idea simply because the opposite party suggested it. I know many fine people of different religions and ones who have no religion whatsoever who are good, morally upstanding people simply trying to live the best lives they can and, hopefully, help others do the same. I also know people who just attack and ridicule those who have a different belief system than they have without ever trying to get to know them at all.

My point is that we all as human beings come from different backgrounds, cultures, and belief systems. None of us is perfect, and we all do things that annoy someone else. Somehow we have to learn how to live with and understand one another without infringing on each other’s rights or beliefs. Of course, there is no easy answer to how one does that.

I think the danger comes when we stereotype each other based on the actions of some, even if it is a perceived majority. I think it is important that we see each other as individuals rather than as generalized collectives. That’s what I try to do in my own life, although I am, admittedly, not always successful.

I know I am naïve in some ways. I am an optimist, even when circumstances appear dire or frustrating. I truly believe in the innate goodness of people even when people are doing hurtful things to one other. I know I have a very idealistic “Pollyanna-esque” view when I ask why we can’t all just get along. I know this. But I suppose I would rather be that way than pessimistic, apathetic, or/and cynical.

Well, this post turned out much longer than I had anticipated. I guess I had a lot to say. Congratulations if you made it this far.


Alan said...

I generally agree with you. Hate and venom and immaturity and all the rest of that is regrettable regardless of whose side it comes from. In fairness I have to say though that I think it's more regrettable when coming from those who profess to be followers of the Savior and thus should know and do better.

I agree that the Church has the right to specify acceptable behavior on its property. I agree that these guys probably were more belligerent than they needed to be. I agree that there is probably blame on both sides.

I also think the larger issue is not one of specific behaviors or property rights. In the words of one DN commenter who was so spot on that I quoted him on my own blog, the issue "is not that the church was within its rights, but how and when they choose to enforce those rights. There are many times in life that being in the right but at the wrong time creates a public relations nightmare. And that is what the church has here. Rather than let two disrespectful individuals move on, they put the spot light on them, giving the world a chance to criticise the church for the uneven application of its own rules."

The Faithful Dissident said...

Great post, Cody. As usual, I think we're pretty much in agreement here.

I guess the only way to know the truth is to have a gay couple stage a truly 100% innocent kiss in front of security guards to see the reaction. :)

I've just done a post exploring the deeper issue behind this controversy, namely whether non-sexual displays of affection between homosexuals should be allowed in the Church.

[kɹeɪ̯ɡ̊] said...

The question is not whether the church has the legal right to discriminate, but that it does. We're just fed up with their hollow and hypocritical protestations of "love" for the gays while treating us like garbage.

The church has made big mistake (again) by choosing to make this a big issue in the first place, and then my coming out with a version of events that doesn't match up with the original reporting of the incident by even the police, and makes them look vindictive and out to malign gays at all costs.

Gay LDS Actor said...

Alan, I agree that it is more regreattable when words of hate and venom come from those who should know better. I do not understand that mentality.

I also agree that "being in the the wrong time" causes major problems for the church.

FD, I'm looking forward to reading your post.

[k-e----], I certainly understand where your feelings of anger come from. I guess my point is that fighting the "garbage" with garbage is not a productive way of solving the issues that opposing sides have with one another. And although There is a lot of hypocrisy out there, I myself have felt a great deal of love in my own dealings with most of my fellow members and local leaders of the LDS Church, and in spite of flaws I see in how the leaders of the LDS Church deal with this issue, I actually do believe they care about and love gay people. I just think there is still a lot of ignorance and tunnel vision from them about the issue. And, yes, it doesn't help their case when they continually shoot themselves in the foot regarding homosexual issues, but I still think there is much goodness there even if others disagree.

I also have to say that if the Church's version of events doesn't match up, I also think the gay couple's version doesn't quite match up either, so there may be dishonesty or misinterpretation on both sides. I'm reserving my judgment for now.