Utah plays host to one of the largest and most active gay communities in the nation. Utah also is known for its political and religious conservatism.
To get an idea on how these two groups interact, one needs to look no further than the people themselves.
Take Spenced Trembe, a business student and singer at the University of Utah. Trembe is 22 years old and has been openly gay for five years.
“Think of how hard it was to come to grips with your sexuality. Now imagine how hard that would be if everyone told you it was wrong,” Trembe said when talking about coming of age as a gay man. “It’s like a right of passage for us.”
Some people, like Lesean “Earsnot” Combs, a shoe storeowner from New York City who moved to Salt Lake in 2006, thinks Utah fits in its own unique niche.
“It’s weird man, people don’t get hateful or hyper-accepting, they just pretend like they don’t notice,” Combs said.
But what about the Mormon influence? Stories and rumors fill national tabloids on the cruelty and hostile attitude of the church.
“Actually Mormon’s aren’t so bad, I’ve heard the horror stories but most the missionaries I’ve met are, at the very least, conscientious,” Trembe said.
Daniel Page, a member of the Mormon priesthood and soon to be missionary didn’t even have an opinion on the subject of the homosexual population. Page has been a Mormon all his life, and a member of the ROTC (Reserve Officers’ Training Corps) program for the past three years.
“In my experience sexual orientation has little to do with someone’s ability to do their job,” Page said, adding, “despite any beliefs on the subject, they are ALL still people.”
“Not every Lesbian is what you see on T.V. Some of us are normal girls looking for other normal girls,” said Lara Buress, a student at Weber State University.
Lara is 23-years-old and is one of the most decorated philanthropists in the state, operating two charities for senior citizens and contributing as a leader of the Neighbor Works Association. Lara has been openly lesbian for the past eight years.
“You never know when someone is going to say something or do something. Especially since almost everyone is nice and treats you like everyone else. I think that’s what makes discrimination worse when it does happen, because it doesn’t happen all the time,” Buress said.
“Any ‘issues’ [someone] has with us is put to private pretty quick. You really think you the first person to throw an insult our way? To us, defending ourselves is a way of life,” Combs said.
“Utah isn’t bad,” Trembe said. “There are places for us and we just make our way. It actually feels like a friendly environment.”
According to the people that live in it Utah, though not perfect, is an accepting place for any sexual orientation. And as the community grows, the line between them blurs. For some individuals, it already has.