Hundreds of people braved the elements on the evening of Nov. 2 to attend a candlelight vigil at Salt Lake City’s Library Square. But while gay-rights groups and organizations as Equality Utah, the Utah Pride Center, the Human Rights Campaign and Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays co-hosted the event, none were responsible for organizing it.
That task fell to three Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saint mothers with gay children.
In his opening remarks PFLAG Salt Lake City president Lyn Westberg explained that the women—Millie Watts, Linda Barney and Kathryn Steffensen—had planned the vigil when they met to discuss their anger over the LDS Church’s backing of California’s Proposition 8, a constitutional amendment seeking to ban gay marriage in the state’s constitution.
“They wanted to do something positive to show inclusion for their gay friends, family and children,” Westberg said.
At times weeping, Watts told the crowd that their attendance—particularly during a cold November rain storm—touched her.
“I think we have a good reason to be together,” she said. “This is what happens when people in California say mean things about our gay kids. The mothers come out of the closet.”
Watts, who has two gay children, said her church’s backing of Proposition 8 was dividing families “like the Civil War all over again.” She added, however, that she felt encouraged by the number of people speaking out against the California amendment.
“My sense is that this time around more people are not content to continue the discrimination,” she said.
Barney called Proposition 8 “evil,” and encouraged gays and lesbians to come out of the closet to friends and family, provided that the “opportunity is right.”
“There are many people who, if they knew you were gay, would stand up for you,” she said.
In her speech Steffensen reminded the crowd of past civil rights abuses in U.S. history and urged them to “ensure that justice is done” by opposing Proposition 8.
“Whenever one person’s rights are taken away, whose rights will be next?” she said.
After the speeches, the crowd walked around the block holding candles and No on 8 signs. They were frequently greeted by honking horns and cheers from passing cars.
Utah news outlets estimated that the crowd numbered between 500 and 600 people—many of them heterosexual couples. Lauren Young and her partner Kristine Bjornevald were among that number. A recent immigrant from Oslo, Norway (which legalized gay marriage in June), Bjornevald said that she was deeply angered at attempts to deny U.S. gay and lesbian couples marriage rights.
“This could have been a huge snow storm, and we would have come out,” she said.
St. George PFLAG president Claudia Bradshaw organized a similar vigil in her city. Another was held in Provo the following day.