“Salt Lake City is a complicated place,” I told the crowd. “It is a land of harsh contradictions.”
“Contradictions like what?” one of them asked.
“Well, this past week the government made two notable new law changes. On one hand, it is no longer illegal for teachers to mention being gay in public schools. On the other hand, we now have the lowest legal driving alcohol limits in the country, lowering the protocols from .08 to .05.
“Last year, a major street in the city was renamed Harvey Milk Boulevard, after a gay icon. Around the same time, the governor announced that pornography in the state is a national health crisis, and health funding dollars would be placed toward combatting it, loosely reinforcing the local cultural belief that viewing pornography is akin to sex addiction and requires treatment.
“We elected a lesbian mayor who is a single mother of an adopted African American child, and her office is just down the road from the leading authorities of the Mormon Church, a group of over a dozen elderly white straight men.
“Our incredible landscapes of mountains and incredible views are capped for half the year with poison as air pollution rises to the highest in the country during those times.
“It is an absolute land of contradiction, balanced by the strange coexistence of right and left, red and blue, Democrat and Conservative.”
I remained quiet for a minute while the crowd digested that information, chewing on the substance of it.
“So let’s take a minute to look at how that impacts the LGBT community itself. Salt Lake City has an enormous LGBT population, one of the highest in the country per capita. We have been rated as the gayest city in America before, and Utah boasts the highest percentages of gay parents in the country. Does anyone know why that is?”
Members of the crowd shook their head, confused.
“It’s because gay men and women marry someone of the opposite sex, have children, and then come out later in life. So we have people who come out of the closet with 2 or 5 or 8 kids already in place. I bet we have the highest percentages of mixed orientation marriages as well, and the majority result in divorce.
“On the flip side of those facts, we recognize that Utah leads the nation with suicide being the leading cause of death among teens, and much of that is due to a combination of religious shame about being gay or trans, and the pressure to conform. We also have tremendously high rates of LGBT teen homelessness.
“Other related facts, Utah has tremendously high rates of depression and anti-depressant usage, particularly among women, and tremendously high rates of pornography addiction among men, combined with extremely high divorce rates.”
I let all of that sink in for a few moments. Several in the crowd looked distressed, some were scribbling notes, others had their heads bowed as they contemplated.
“So what do we do with all of this information?” one person asked.
I cleared my throat. “Well, earlier we talked about the presence of shame. The idea of measuring our own worth at impossible standards, and experiencing depression and anxiety and a general sense of feeling broken when life doesn’t turn out the way we were promised. When you are taught your entire life that following a particular path leads to a particular result, and life doesn’t turn out that way, it leads to cognitive dissonance, divorce, pain, and sometimes even suicide.”
We pursued that topic for a few minutes, relating our own stories and experiences to these statistics and topics. Several in the room grew emotional, sad, frustrated, angry, even despondent. Some of them were struggling now with depression, or knew others that were; some knew others who had taken their lives, and some had made attempts on their own lives.
One man pressed his hand into the air, a burning question on his mind. “What I don’t understand is, if there are these statistics available, then why don’t they make changes?” By ‘they’, I assumed he meant the local government and, perhaps, the leaders of the Mormon Church.
I took in a deep breath. “It is difficult to convince others to see things our way. We have an entire society built on the basis of ‘faith’, or believing without seeing. Belief in God and all of the things he teaches through church institutions. And Utah has much higher percentages of this than many places. So when you measure moral beliefs against documented evidence, it doesn’t stack up or merit. It’s the same argument that leads some cities to push for the teaching of creation instead of evolution, because creation matches their beliefs and evolution, despite its scientific evidences, does not.
“For example, there are hundreds of studies that show that teaching sex education in school and providing contraception and birth control significantly risks teen pregnancies. Yet we have many states, Utah included, that teach abstinence only, and the teen pregnancy rates go up in number. The evidence of the scientific studies is ignored or set aside by the ‘faith’-based majorities.
“This same political cognitive dissonance applies to mass beliefs on Planned Parenthood and abortions, gun control laws, gay marriage, transgender bathroom issues, equal pay for women, ‘illegal’ immigration, the connection between Muslim religions and terrorism and a thousand other controversial topics. Evidence is ignored in favor of moral belief structures.
“But in many cases, the results, for many, in places like Utah, is often shame, depression, broken marriages, and, in the most tragic of cases, suicide. We live in a state where men in their fifties and sixties come out of the closet for the first time, where STD rates go up due to lack of sex education, and where believing women in church-funded colleges are blamed for the sexual assaults they recently suffered at the hands of believing men.”
The room stayed silent for a bit. And then one last question.
“Well, what do we do with this information now?”
I nodded, solemn, and clasped my hands. “That’s up to each of us, individually, to decide.”