Via my Facebook friend Michael Westley of Salt Lake City (I lived in Utah for three years), above is an actual flier that was posted on doors by a local LDS Stake Center (a division of the Mormon church).
Jim Dabakis says he’ll try to get members of LDS church to join party
Jim Dabakis said his sexual orientation never came up during the nomination process.
SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah Democratic Party has voted overwhelming in favor of electing as its new chairman an art dealer believed to be the first openly gay leader of a political party in the state.
Jim Dabakis, a co-founder of Equality Utah and the Utah Pride Center, was elected Saturday during the party’s state convention in Salt Lake City.
Dabakis said his sexual orientation never came up during the nomination process.
“The whole gay thing just simply did not surface as an issue,” he told the Salt Lake Tribune. “People are broad-minded in Utah, and they want to know if you can do the job or not.”
Dabakis also said he will go out of his way to make members of the Utah-based Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints feel comfortable in the Democratic Party. He said Democrats believe in the inclusion of all people, even if they have some differing opinions, including Mormons who primarily vote Republican.
“I want to speak directly to the LDS people in our state,” he said. “I want you LDS people to participate in our party. We want your spirit, we want your contributions, and we want to earn your votes. I will do whatever I can as chair to see that our big tent is comfortable to LDS people because it’s the right thing to do.”
Dabakis said many Mormons want a chance to be part of the “normal, moderate, reasonable” Democratic Party in light of splintering in the GOP between the tea party and more moderate Republicans.
“People are looking for real life answers to problems,” said Dabakis, who replaces retiring three-term party chairman Wayne Holland. “I believe to my core Democrats can win in Utah.”
The Utah Republican Party controls both houses of the state Legislature. It also holds all statewide offices and two of the three congressional seats.
Democratic Party delegates noted Dabakis has been a successful businessman and radio talk show host, and has been involved Utah politics for 30 years, the Deseret News reported.
“He will bring energy,” said Tim Chambless, with the Hinckley Institute of Politics at the University of Utah. “He’ll bring a greater connection with the business community.”
Convention delegates also elected small-business owner Brian Doughty, who is openly gay, to replace state Rep. Jackie Biskupski of Salt Lake City. Biskupski resigned after buying a house outside the district.
The documents revealed how, in a 1998 campaign in Hawaii, the Mormon Church helped to stop same-sex marriage through inconspicuous association with other denominations, such as Roman Catholics. The experience laid the groundwork for the Prop. 8 battle, during which many Mormons were encouraged to make donations to the California campaign, some of which, the film contends, were hidden. Consequently, the amount of money the Mormon Church contributed to the campaign was underreported, the movie argues.
Remember, Hawaii has the second-highest concentration of Mormons of any state in the U.S., next to Utah. More than 60,000 Mormons live in Hawaii, or about 5 percent of the overall population. As someone who lived in Utah for three years, I can’t help but wonder how much the church had to do with Gov. Linda Lingle’s decision on Tuesday to veto a civil unions bill. Honolulu Weekly’s Ryan Senaga wondered something similar in his review of the film a few weeks ago:
Perhaps after the final fate of HB444 is determined, a searing, a powerful documentary like “8″ will be made about the journey of that bill. But will it revolve around the bill’s passage into law, or its veto? If it’s about the veto, will we want the world to learn about the insidious steps behind the scenes of its demise and would we want our streets and the faces of certain kamaaina are forever documented as promoting hate?
Two things — well, three really — about the new Twilight Saga entry, Eclipse. First, my review will be in the paper this week, so look for it. That’s kinda the third thing.
Second, when perusing the press site for the film, I came upon these two photos. Look carefully at Taylor; now look at Robert; they are actually the same picture, taken from a scene from the film. The only difference — other than the fact that, once you look closely, you can see how it was Photoshopped — is that in one, the girl is missing. Now, she’s in the scene in the movie. So the question is, why was she removed from the photo?
And the answer, according to one person in my office, is clearly: To appeal to the gay community.
Certainly it is convenient for the studio to streamline all the beefcake in one two-shot and omit the woman — which, when I think about it, is probably the only reason most girls go to see these films. (Who likes Bella, anyway?) But I think gay guys want it all conveniently tied up without female distractions, too. And the producers know it.
They also seem to know it insofar as the two directors in competition to helm the adaptations of the last book in the series were gays Gus Van Sant and Bill Condon (Condon got it). But deep down, it’s hard not to feel exploited by the creator.
Which brings us to point No. 3: The author of the books, Stephenie Meyer, is a devout Mormon who had never written so much as a letter to the editor before she became fabulously wealthy with her Twilight series. Some have analyzed the books through the prism of the LDS church, noting the virginal heroine and Edward’s insistence on marriage are conservative religious principals. Meyer has denied it.
What she hasn’t denied is being a fan of Mormon sci-fi author Orson Scott Card. Card is a virulently anti-gay bigot (which, if you saw the documentary 8: The Mormon Proposition, is par for the course for that cult). Last year, he joined the board of the anti-gay National Organization for Marriage and has said no one can claim to be gay and a Mormon.
Now, I see these movies for free as part of my job (plus I have a well-documented crush on Taylor Lautner). But it makes you wonder: Does Meyer agree with Card’s view on homosexuality? Does she have as much contempt for her gay fans as Card seems to?
CHANGING FOCUS | Cowan saw a bigger story when his film about Mormon gay youth kicked out of their homes opened up to a world of prejudice by the LDS church detailed in ‘8: The Mormon Proposition.’
Proposition 8: Only a marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California.
Getting a movie into the Sundance Film Festival is an honor in itself, but unexpected consequences always follow. For some, it’s fame and fortune.
For Reed Cowan, director of 8: The Mormon Proposition, it was death threats — a result that was especially surprising since the movie he ended up making was not the one he set out to film.
“I was raised in Utah in the Mormon church and to know that other young Mormon kids were being kicked out of their homes after coming out really pained me,” says Cowan on a recent trip to Dallas. “Ninety percent of the kids on the street in Salt Lake City in the dead of winter are gay kids. I thought, I have a camera and I can shine the light on that. So we started out to do a film about that.
“Then Proposition 8 began to bubble.”
Cowan planned his movie to touch on the initiative though he never anticipated Prop 8 would pass. Then the vote happened.
“So many of us woke up the next morning just feeling like, are you kidding? If we can’t win California, we can’t win anywhere. So many of us — gay or lesbian or people sympathetic to LGBT causes — were sickened by it,” he says. “In a figurative sense, if we were in a battle, I felt like I was sucker-punched and I looked around at my feet to see what stones I had to throw.”
As a response to the vote, Broadway singer-actor Sam Harris recorded a video blog that caught Cowan’s attention.
“He was so incensed because he’d just gotten married and was working to adopt a child and he did this vlog that was so eloquent and so beautiful,” says Cowan. “My God, here’s an artist who’s taking his resources, his music, his talent, his voice and he’s doing something about it the very next morning! What do I have at my arm’s length? I have a camera. I have friends who can edit. So that’s what I began to do.
It’s been an incredible journey.”
The film began sending shockwaves through the church before it was even completed. But perhaps the most amazing development for Cowan was the amount of information that was dropped in his lap — literally, as the box of documents that is one of the movie’s smokingest guns.
“A young man who worked in the LDS church archives came out of the woodwork and approached me directly. [His] father is very high up in the Mormon church and he was allowed access to things that most people aren’t.”
Cowan’s informant learned that high-ranking Mormons put together an internal study about gay and lesbian issues.
“It was 1,500 pages he copied and took off with. I have every one of them,” Cowan says. Those documents have since been submitted as evidence in the trial challenging Prop 8, which began closing arguments this week.
Cowan’s own life has faced destruction on multiple occasions, many directly attributable to his Mormon upbringing. When Cowan was doing his missionary work (which brought him to North Texas), he genuinely believed what he was preaching and he believes even now that many people within the church aren’t motivated by hate.
“Prop 8 wasn’t done with malice. Bigotry isn’t often done with malice. As one of the people who was in my film said to me, ‘But we do it with a smile,’” he laughs. “We do it with a smile! You don’t have to have malice and desire to go slash somebody’s throat to actually do things to destroy their lives.”
After getting married and having a son, Cowan’s wife left him and he finally came out. Today, he has adopted two children with a partner, Greg Abplanalp, whom he’s known since elementary school.
“In high school we had a relationship and one night in our small Utah town I was beaten almost to death, almost Matthew Shepard-style, where they stood over me in disgust, where they had taken me to finish me off. I lived, but my dad was so afraid that he sent me on a mission and told me I was never to talk to that boy again,” Cowan says. “And I didn’t for 13 years.”
Cowan even was counseled by a church leader to write a letter to Abplanalp condemning him, which he reluctantly did.
After reparative therapy, aversion therapy, visualization therapy and other approaches to “cure” him failed, Cowan approached another leader for guidance. That’s when he was told to marry a woman; it didn’t last long.
“I had been divorced a year, had my first relationship, got my heart broken,” he says. “I believe in karma and the person who’d broken my heart kind of just dumped and ran. I thought I was obviously experiencing the pain I caused somebody else.”
He learned that Abplanalp lived two blocks from him while he was married. Cowan wrote him an apology and they decided to meet. The two reunited and began raising Wesley, the boy born from Cowan’s marriage. Two years later, Wesley died in an accident.
“Greg saved my life after the death of my son. He’s the reason we built 25 schools in Africa for AIDS orphans in my son’s name. That’s why I fight,” he says of his decision to make the movie.
“Life taught us we’re braver and stronger and smarter than we ever thought we were,” he says. “But our little boys deserve to know that we’re a family and that the U.S. government sees us as a family and that if they’re going to define families by marriage, which I have my issues with, and give benefits to families that are married, then by damn, my kids deserve that. My kids deserve the same thing.”
It’s a fight he’s willing to pursue even though some want to stop him. Which is where the death threats come in.
“You wouldn’t believe the letters I’ve gotten from religious people,” Cowan says. “Three days ago, a guy calling himself ‘Christian4life’ wrote, ‘God took your son away from you because you’re a faggot. And your son would’ve had a horrible life and that’s why he died.’”
So many people bring his son’s death into their hate-filled letters that he’s made the agonizing decision to move his son’s body to a private grave.
But the film has generated positive feedback, too.
“I’ve had letters from gay people in their 70s that say, ‘Finally you lanced the wound, thank you.’” he recalls. “I’ve had gay kids as young as 12 and 13 contact me. I’ve had religious people say, ‘Thank you, you helped me see things differently.’”
His goal for the film is simple: A complete and total separation of church and state in our country.
“This movie is ultimately for the voter. Look at what happened with your sacred vote. Look at how the blurring of lines between church and state resulted in your sacred vote being used to achieve the objectives of a religion. And look at the danger of becoming a theocracy in history. Do we want a democracy or theocracy?” Cowan asks.
Ultimately, though, he hopes his film brings about change.
“Gay people are tough. We’re resilient. We learned to be from the time we’re in school. Most of us survive, God rest the ones who don’t,” he says. “We lay our own lives down and give our days in the service of kids who are growing up gay to make it better for them.”
Reed Cowan’s emotionally charged and ultimately enraging documentary 8: The Mormon Proposition opens today at the Angelika Film Center, almost two years to the day after the first legal gay marriages occurred in California. It’s a fitting release date for a film that so candidly and energetically explores the LDS church’s role in reversing the decision to recognize same-sex marriages.
His 80-minute film delves into the bowels of the church to uncover a history of bigotry and exclusion. Cowan, who was raised Mormon and persecuted for being gay, frequently sought for the Mormon church to tell its side of the story, though he was mostly refused.
Cowan’s connections gained him access to hundreds of pages of private documents as revolting as they are incriminating. 8 is powerfully inspirational and should prompt every LGBT viewer to action, no matter where they previously fell on the subject of gay marriage. Even when it’s at its hardest to watch during scenes of overt condemnation and reenactments of the covert torture of homosexuals within the Mormon church, the revelation of such raw hatred and destruction is impossible to shake. — S.L.
Opens today at Angelika Mockingbird Station.
This article appeared in the National Pride edition in the Dallas Voice print edition June 18, 2010.