Utah gay rights advocates oppose boycott of the state


Some prominent Utah gay rights leaders oppose a boycott of the state’s ski and tourism industry, being proposed by gay-rights groups angry with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ support of Proposition 8 in California that defined marriage as only between a man and a woman.

Gay-rights activist and influential Washington D.C., blogger John Aravosis has called for for a boycott of Utah’s $6 billion a year tourism industry, according to the Associated Press. He called for skiers to not come to Utah and for Hollywood actors and directors to pull out of the Sundance Film Festival.

“At a fundamental level, the Utah Mormons crossed the line on this one,” he told The Associated Press. “They just took marriage away from 20,000 couples and made their children bastards. You don’t do that and get away with it.” But Mike Thompson, executive director of Equality Utah, a grass roots, statewide political advocacy organization working on behalf of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people to secure equality and fairness, said Saturday at a gay-rights rally in Salt Lake City that such action would be counterproductive.

“Now is no time to boycott Utah,” he said. “Now is the time to stand up in solidarity … We need to show Utahns that we are not going to go away and that we need to be paid attention to. We need rights for our families.” State Sen. Scott, D-Salt Lake, who is gay, said he understands the sense of anger and disappointment surrounding the passage of Proposition 8, but he did not think the boycott was the proper response.

He said boycotting the ski industry might instead harm those supporting gay rights within the state.

“I would rather have folks from all over the country stand in solidarity with us rather than just write you off, rather than build a wall around Utah and say to hell with anyone inside because you are all suspect,” McCoy said. “I don’t think that is the way to go. People coming here brings outside ideas and diversity and helps to broaden peoples’ minds which is exactly what we need.” Leigh von der Esch, managing director of the Utah Office of Tourism, said that travel can promote diplomacy and dialogue.

“The visitor and the visited can learn through each other through travel,” she said.

Maarie Isaacson of Pleasant Grove, who attended Saturday’s rally, said she supported the boycott, though she said skiers should also boycott Colorado resorts because that is the home of James Dobson and Focus on the Family, which she said were major supporters of Proposition 8.

“You should boycott specific businesses for sure,” she said. “However, the whole state is run by the Mormons so any way we can affect them in any shape or form.” Baptist preacher Lonnie Pursifull from Duchesne, who is opposed to gay marriage and showed up to stage a counter protest Saturday, said he would like to see businesses and politicians that support gay pride parades and homosexuality in Salt Lake City boycotted.

One man carried a sign supporting the LDS Church at the rally. He refused to be identified, but said he was opposed to the boycott. Tina Snyder, an information specialist for the Grand County Travel Council in Moab, said she did not expect that a boycott would have much of an effect on tourism in her part of the state. She said that since Grand County is one of the areas in Utah with the lowest population of Mormons, it was unfair, to be part of a boycott, especially since Utahns did not vote on Proposition 8.

Shawn Stinson of the Salt Lake County Convention and Visitors Bureau, said Utah has seen its share of proposed boycotts including when former Mayor Rocky Anderson protested against President George Bush’s visit to a VFW convention.

“I would say that fair or not, it is understandable why it is directed at a tourism organization,” he said. “That is hitting Utah which is typically affiliated with the LDS Church in the pocketbook. Is it fair? No, but it is understandable.” Utah’s ski industry seemed to be taking a low-key approach to the possibility of a boycott with Ski Utah spokesman Jessica Kunzer saying that group was taking no specific action, and Jared Ishkanian of Snowbird refused comment.

Erin Grady of Deer Valley said that as far as she was aware, the annual Utah Gay and Lesbian Ski Week scheduled Jan. 7 to 11 this year at Park City resorts was still on.

“We feel the boycott is a little bit misdirected at the travel industry as a whole,” she said. “It is a disconnect from the [Mormon] Church. We have no affiliation with the church and people of all different types of faith work within the travel industry.” Sundance Film Festival officials did not return phone calls asking for comment.