Salt Lake City: Home to Mormons and gays alike

Story and gallery by BENNY CARDULLO

Salt Lake City is known for stunning mountain scenery, the Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square, and the 2002 Winter Olympics. But on Jan. 10, 2019, it was also named the Gayest City in America by The Advocate magazine.

This is not the first time Salt Lake City has earned this title from The Advocate. In 2012, Salt Lake City was given the top spot on the list of the gayest cities in America, and in 2016 it made the magazine’s top-10 list.

Jimmy Kimmel quipped in 2012, “I wonder how they (The Advocate) measure this — do they walk into the local Abercrombie & Fitch and see how full it is?”

Although this is not the magazine’s procedure, the ranking process is admittedly based on non-scientific criteria. The magazine looks at the number of gay and lesbian bookstores, elected officials who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender, and some edgier qualifiers such as the number of International Mr. Leather competition semifinalists and the presence of nude yoga classes.

Of course these qualifiers are more abundant in larger cities such as San Francisco, Miami, Boston, and New York. But The Advocate wanted to focus on smaller cities for this year’s list.

To explain its unconventional forms of ranking, The Advocate said, “There’s the official census with information on same-sex couples as a percentage of the population, then there’s our accounting of the gayest places in the USA — and we know the twain shan’t meet. But do we really need another article telling us that the homos gather in West Hollywood and Hell’s Kitchen?”

Utah’s LGBTQ+ advocates were pleasantly surprised by the rankings.

“Well, you know, we’re all very proud of our community here, and we’ve done a lot of growing and empowering of each other and our allies in the community,” said Utah Pride Center Executive Director Valerie Larabee in a 2012 press release after Salt Lake City was named America’s gayest city.

The Williams Institute at the UCLA School of law found that the LGBTQ+ presence in Salt Lake City is substantially growing and becoming more open and visible at a pace quicker than the rest of the United States.

Walker Boyes, a local artist who moved with his family to Utah from California, said, “Salt Lake City is an up-and-coming place. I’d rather set roots here and build connections than live in a city where no one cares about me.” Walker continued, “I also love how you walk down the street and people wave to you, I don’t get that in LA or New York.”

While many rejoice in the progress Utah has made in their relation to the LGBTQ+ community, many still feel there is a long way to go.

Sean Edwards, who moved to Utah from Princeton, New Jersey, 12 years ago, said, “While I have felt very well-received in the LDS and Utah community, I feel like there’s still work to be done.” However, Edwards and his husband, Matt Doane, are still members of the predominant religion of Utah, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and plan to raise their future children in the faith.

“I feel like by having my family here, or our family here, we can continue to embrace diversity as a community, and I think that’s important,” Edwards said, “I think successful societies and successful communities and successful people are people who really know how to work with and get along with and collaborate with other people who are different than them. If I’m going to be an advocate for our community here I need to be willing to raise my family here.”

According to a 2013 study by Gary J. Gates, a distinguished scholar for the Williams Institute, Salt Lake City is “the gay parenting capital of the United States.” Gates’ data reveals that among couples of the same sex in the Salt Lake City area, more than one in four are rearing children.

Nicole Dicou, a former employee at Equality Utah, is getting ready to raise her baby girl in Salt Lake City with her wife Natalie. Dicou said, “My wife and I want to raise our child in Utah because we grew up here and call it home. We are close to our family here, love the mountains, and enjoy all that the state has to offer.”

Dicou added, “We can’t wait to welcome our little girl to this beautiful place.”