No place for hate

 

At Wheatland High and West Elementary schools in eastern Wyoming, banners that declared the schools “no place for hate” raised a stir among parents early this year because the banners were sponsored in part by the Gay and Lesbian Fund for Colorado as part of a national Anti-Defamation League campaign. The Platte County School District board voted to remove the banners and declined to revisit the issue despite pleas from other parents.

The Equality State — no place for hate, indeed.

I recalled that incident when I came across the Southern Poverty Law Center’s new report, “Under Attack,” which was written in the wake of this year’s rash of high profile gay youth suicides and details how gays and lesbians may be the minority most targeted by hate crimes across the country.

The report adds 13 anti-gay organizations to the SPLC’s extensive list of hate groups in the United States. Each of those groups has found a place on SPLC’s Hate Map, which shows that more than half of these groups operate in the West — in Colorado, Utah, California, Arizona and Washington.

Among them is the Colorado Springs-based Family Research Institute, which seeks to gain secular support for anti-gay bias and use science to legitimize its views, fairly standard among anti-gay groups, that homosexuality is a lifestyle choice and the “gay agenda” exists only to victimize children by making pedophilia legal.

FRI is among “a hard core of smaller groups, most of them religiously-motivated, that have continued to pump out demonizing propaganda aimed at homosexuals and other sexual minorities,” the report says.

At least one of those groups may no longer be active in the West, a group from Sandy, Utah, called America Forever, whose website declares that the group disbanded because of unspecified “unspeakable circumstances.”

Absent from SPLC’s list of anti-gay groups is Focus on the Family, also based in Colorado Springs, an organization long known for its staunch opposition to gay rights. SPLC says Focus has moderated its message and is not a hate group:

“Last February, after founder James Dobson retired and pastor Jim Daly took over, Focus on the Family — for years, the powerhouse organization of the anti-gay religious right — markedly softened its anti-gay rhetoric. Daly began meeting with gay rights activists, ended the ministry’s controversial “reparative therapy” for gays and lesbians, and even suggested that legalized same-sex marriage might not be a disaster.”

While the SPLC is highlighting the low points for gay rights throughout the West, the region has seen some fairly significant gay rights victories this fall, not the least of which is the initial federal district court victory for same-sex marriage advocates in the battle over California’s Proposition 8, now working its way through the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco.

In Salt Lake City, even as an October Salt Lake Tribune poll showed 44 percent of Utahns believe same-sex attractions can be changed, just last week the Salt Lake City School Board voted to approve a policy protecting students and employees from discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity — possibly the first such school policy in the state, the Tribune reports.

In Denver, Grand Junction-native Monica Marquez, Colorado’s first Latina and openly-gay state Supreme Court justice, was sworn in on Friday.

And, in Arizona, Navajo Nation member and former state Rep. Jack Jackson, Jr., won election to the state Senate. He’ll be one of five gay, lesbian or bisexual members of the Arizona Legislature.

Those are just a few of the gay rights victories won in recent weeks showing that though any Google search can unearth plenty of examples of discrimination toward gay and lesbian Westerners, the West just may be no place for hate.

Bobby Magill is a Fort Collins, Colo.-based journalist and photographer focusing on environment, energy and public health issues across the West. Find his work at www.bobbymagill.com and his photography at www.restlesswest.com. A South Carolina native and former outdoor educator, Bobby moved West a decade ago and has since explored every county in New Mexico and Colorado, where he has reported for newspapers in Grand Junction and Fort Collins.

Essays in the Just West blog are not written by High Country News. The authors are solely responsible for the content.