how the LGBTQ community is doing in southern Utah

St George • More than a week after a gunman killed five people and injured 19 others at a Colorado gay nightclub, members of the LGBTQ community in the St. George area are experiencing an all-too-familiar emotion: fear.

“I check my doors three times a night to make sure they’re locked,” said Katheryne Knight, a St. George resident and LGBTQ advocate. “I’m also talking to my friends more than ever to make sure they’re okay, and I need to be aware of who’s around me at all times.”

Toquerville resident Amberlyn Storey is considering buying a gun — not so much for herself as out of fear of what might happen to others in the LGBTQ community. Others have said they hole up in their apartments and houses and avoid public events that could make them targets.

Knight and others say the comments of some members of the St. George City Council, particularly Councilwoman Michelle Tanner, and other political leaders have fueled fear and hatred of drag shows. They believe this has put the queer community at risk.

Some cite to support their concerns Transport Secretary Pete Buttigieg’s latest Twitter post about the tragedy in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

“If you’re a politician or media figure making sure the LGBTQ community is hated and feared – not because any of us have ever harmed you, but because you think it’s useful – then don’t you dare wondering about this kind of violence follows. Don’t you dare look surprised,” tweeted Buttigieg, the first openly gay member of the President’s cabinet to be confirmed by the U.S. Senate.

While Buttigieg wasn’t specifically referring to anyone in southern Utah, members of the local LGBTQ community say it might as well have been him.

“I see a direct connection between what happened in Colorado Springs and what’s happening here,” said Dana Henry Martin, a Toquerville-based author who is non-binary and sexually-fluent. “Hate speech can incite hateful acts. We’ve had a lot of hate speech around here lately. Words and labels can turn violent in the blink of an eye. I’m afraid we’re on the verge of that in southern Utah.”

What Martin and others are referring to is the excitement about drag shows, specifically the drag show “We’re Here,” which HBO hosted on June 3 in St. George’s Town Square Park. After refusing to comply with the city council’s request to revoke the permit for the event, St. George City Manager Adam Lenhard was forced to resign and received $625,000 as part of a confidential settlement agreement to avoid a potentially costly lawsuit for wrongful termination .

Knight recalls the fear she felt when she went to a city council meeting last summer to voice her support for drag shows.

“I left a message on my laptop to tell my family I love them,” she said. “I didn’t know if I would return home because people were threatening me [the LGBTQ community]. It has always felt like putting your life on the line trying to speak up for the LGBTQ community.”

Morgan Barrick, operations director of Pride of Southern Utah, said the already heated atmosphere in St. George became even more tense in September when protesters disrupted the annual Pride festival in St. George’s Town Square Park.

“They decided to block the stage with their giant signs and say things like ‘gay sex is a sin,’ ‘you’re going to hell,’ and ‘you’re a threat to national security,'” Barrick said.

A meeting of the Liberty Action Coalition, which the Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights recently listed as a far-right organization, caused further excitement. Speaking at the October meeting, Coalition founder Patricia Kent shared pictures of youth at a Pride event in St George.

“This should be the new exciting lifestyle and everyone should love it. They are preparing our children for immoral Satan worship,” said Kent, the national chair of the Independent American Party and a candidate who lost her bid for the Washington County clerk/auditor position on Nov. 8.

A former teacher at Washington County School District, Kent, resigned in 1996 and her teaching certificate was suspended June 30, 2000, The Tribune reported Monday, for unprofessional behavior and inappropriate and overly intimate relationships with students. Kent claims she did nothing wrong.

Such events may have brought tensions to the surface over drag shows and LGTBQ issues, but Storey said they’ve long been simmering in southern Utah.

“My car, which has gay stickers on it, has been tampered with multiple times,” said Storey, a Safe Zone trainer in southern Utah who offers free workshops to help businesses and community members better understand LGBTQ culture and terminology understand and keep people safe when problems arise.

Storey is no stranger to confrontations with fanatics in St. George.

“I’ve had people pull up next to me [in their vehicles] They wave their MAGA hats and honk their horns and yell at me,” Storey continued. “I was told on three separate occasions while waiting at a Costco gas station that I was brave to have gay bumper stickers. That doesn’t happen in California or Washington [state]. They don’t give a damn about my stickers there.”

An openly queer person is rare in Toquerville, and Storey said a lot of people say inappropriate things when they meet her. For example, a nurse caring for her ailing father was unvaccinated and said COVID vaccines and boosters had altered people’s DNA and turned them gay.

“I asked her, ‘Wouldn’t everyone who got the shot be gay then?'” Storey recalls. “And she couldn’t find an answer to that.”

“We Are Here” Screening

As bad as the climate has been for the queer community, some fear it could get even worse. After members of the Tanner and Liberty Action Coalition berated Utah Tech for allowing LGBT students to stage a drag show on campus, Sarah Ostler, president of Utah Tech’s LGBTQ club, said campus police were involved offers additional security for such events. She said she plans to meet with the university’s interim police chief Ron Bridge this week to discuss even tightening security at the club’s weekly events.

Another potential flashpoint for violence is the screening of the HBO drag show “We’re Here,” which was filmed in St. George and will air December 7 at the Sunset Megaplex Theater.

Micah Barrick, Morgan’s husband and executive director of Pride of Southern Utah, said some in the community had reservations about attending the screening.

“A lot of people are very scared, especially given the amount of negative rhetoric about the LGBTQ community coming from members of our city council,” said Micah Barrick. “They are concerned that some of the things being said at St George are potentially inciting [violence like what happened in Colorado Springs].”

Pride of Southern Utah leaders say they are working with the St. George Police Department to ensure there is extra security at the We’re Here screening and future events.

St. George Police could not be reached for comment.

For her part, Martin wants city officials and community leaders to choose their words more carefully.

“Throw out what doesn’t work, like calling the LGBTQ+ community evil,” she said. “Stop thinking if you’re not LGBTQ+ it doesn’t apply to you. That affects everyone. I beg people to realize that none of us will ever recover until tragedy comes to St. George.

“The LGBTQ+ community is devastated across the country and here in southern Utah,” she added. “We all deal with our feelings and grief in our own way. It’s exhausting to be called out again and again to respond to these kinds of tragedies. The LGBTQ+ community cannot do this work alone – the difficult, impossible work of trying to live fully on the one hand and trying to stay alive on the other.”

Note to readers • This story is available only to Salt Lake Tribune subscribers. Thank you for supporting local journalism.

https://www.sltrib.com/news/2022/11/24/club-q-shooting-st-george/ how the LGBTQ community is doing in southern Utah

Justin Scacco

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