Bil Browning

Is Utah the New Gay Political Promised Land?

Filed By Bil Browning | July 18, 2011 5:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Politics
Tags: Brian Doughty, Equality Utah, Jim Dabakis, Michael Mitchell, Utah, Utah democrats

What the hell is going on in Utah? I regularly make fun of my home state of Indiana by comparing them to the "backwards hick states" that folks there talk about with the "Well, thank God we're not from..." attitude. gay-hate-salt-lake.jpgBut Utah has a new gay state party chair and a new gay legislator? The home of the Mormons? Hell, Indiana's just the home of the rednecks!

Delegates at the Democratic state convention voted overwhelmingly, by 528-71, to elect Jim Dabakis as state party chairman. Dabakis, an art dealer and a founder of a founder of Equality Utah and The Utah Pride Center, ran against Robert Comstock, a political activist and middle school wood shop teacher.

Delegates also voted, narrowly, to put Brian Doughty, a small-business owner, in the legislative seat vacated by Jackie Biskupski.

With Doughty's election, Utah's gay community will continue to have at least one voice on the Hill. Biskupski, who resigned in June because she moved out of her district, was the last openly gay lawmaker in Utah. But Doughty, who lives near Liberty Park with his partner, served on the board of directors of Equality Utah until recently when he resigned to pursue the House District 30 seat.

Interestingly enough, the head of National Stonewall Democrats, Michael Mitchell, is the former Executive Director of, wait for it... Equality Utah. So is Utah the new gay political promised land?

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Utah is heavily Republican, but not universally so. They apparently do not keep party registration records, but since 1952, only one Democrat has won the popular vote for President, and that was Johnson in 1964. The state legislature is dominated by Republicans with supermajoprity numbers. So the Democratic Party in Utah is relatively small, and one would expect it would reflect the anti-GOP factions, including most non-closeted gays.

All this shows me is that Democrats in Utah are real, and vibrant, and not just me-tooing the Republicans. But a gay mecca? Far from it.

When your biggest city in the state only has 3 gay bars you are hardly a gay mecca.

Having grown up in Salt Lake City most my life, there is a polarization that is very self-evident driving from Provo up the Wasatch front to the state capitol. Downtown SLC and University of Utah are home to a growing number of non-Mormons who are quick to keep a safe distance from the pockets of Mormanity.

Utah is home to many backpacking, red rock bike trails and other granola fueled adventures on top of skiing and what not. It has brought in a huge crowd on top of the Mormons, many of whom decided to stay. My teachers at the University of Utah were diametrically the opposite of what one finds at BYU. It doesn't come as any surprise that the reaction there is heavy. The state, while containing an overwhelming majority of conservatives still retains a very strong and defiant democrat contingency. The big question would be whether or not they can win elections now. In seeing the various protests around temple square around the homophobic comments of church leadership, you may be right in saying that it's a new political promised land.