The split is a burden. How two LGBTQ council candidates plan to bridge St. George’s cultural divide

St George • Disagreement over drag shows may have plagued St. George for the past 18 months, but two city council candidates prominent in the LGBTQ community insist they can bridge the gap.

Katheryne Knight, who is bisexual, and Austin Hodges, who is gay, are fed up with the culture wars in St. George and believe all 16 candidates vying for three seats on the public council are capable of promoting civility and themselves Focusing on the issues they have are most important and changing the culture of local government.

“We’re delving into cultural issues when we could have been discussing affordable housing,” said Knight, a videographer who creates social media ads for local businesses. “Too many people prefer to focus on things that are irrelevant to the quality of life we ​​need. I want to take that conversation and change it to what we should focus on.”

Hodges, an entrepreneur who co-owns a telecom company that provides digital phone services to businesses, agrees with Knight’s assessment.

“The people of St. George are fed up with division,” he said. “They are fed up with the power struggles and arguments. I have a feeling they are ready for a candidate who will not tolerate dirt-fighting or aggression.”

drag wars

The controversy over drag shows in public spaces has been at the center of local politics lately. A case in point occurred last October, when then-city manager Adam Lenhard was ousted from office for refusing to comply with a city council order to host the HBO drag show “We’re Here” in a city park last summer to cancel. He was later awarded a confidential settlement of $625,000 to avoid legal action for wrongful termination.

Last spring, some local council members tried to stop the Southern Utah Drag Stars from holding a drag show in a city park. That prompted the company to sue the city over allegations that officials had violated the First and Fourteenth Amendments by targeting drag performances and LGBTQ pride events.

In June, US District Judge David Nuffer granted the drag stars’ request for a preliminary injunction, saying the city had violated the company’s constitutional right to free speech and expression and ruled that the show must go on. However, the case will continue to be heard in court.

Catherine Knight

Referring to the secret settlement with Lenhard, Knight quipped she could think of 625,000 better ways to spend taxpayers’ money than on unworldly attempts to foment disputes that result in costly litigation and massive payouts to attorneys.

“People need to realize that once the community starts taking action against a group of people, especially when it affects their First Amendment rights, it affects everyone,” she said.

Knight was born in Connecticut and lived in various places before settling with her mother in St. George as a sophomore in high school. She said growing up in a dysfunctional family made it difficult for her to navigate her youth.

Despite these difficulties, she has since found her footing. She is married and has an 8 year old daughter. According to Knight, when she’s not minding her business, she finds fulfillment in helping and serving others. If elected, in addition to promoting unity, she wants to help the youth of St. George find a better future. In addition, she wants to ensure that newcomers, seniors and members of the LGBTQ community know they are valued and that their voices are being heard and considered by community decision-makers.

Another focus of Knight is affordable housing. A recent study found that nearly half of Washington County residents suffer from a lack of affordable housing. As a council member, Knight said she will encourage higher housing densities and evaluate the feasibility of the city converting abandoned or unused buildings into housing to alleviate the housing shortage.

Sierra Acosta, one of Knight’s supporters, believes the candidate has the right skills for the job.

“She exudes a great energy,” Acosta said. “She’s willing to listen to anyone and doesn’t judge anyone based on their circumstances or their looks. She advocates for victims of domestic and sexual violence and advocates for gay rights and more affordable housing. She is a truly righteous person.”

Austin Hodges

Hodges, who is getting married in February, also wants to campaign for more unity in local government. His decision to become involved in city government was sparked a few years ago when he witnessed armed protesters emerge to counter an alleged Black Lives Matter protest.

Austin Hodges, candidate for St. George’s City Council

“I remember witnessing the tension,” Hodges recalls. “It was neighbor against neighbor, and that really hurt… We see that divide everywhere today. We see it between the LGBTQ community and the religious community, between Republicans and Democrats and Conservatives and Liberals… My goal is to foster unity in St. George and keep our community strong, no matter who we are or what group we belong to .”

Melvin Nimer of St. George, past chairman of the Utah Log Cabin Republicans, said Hodge’s ability to listen respectfully, even to those with whom he disagrees, and his willingness to work with others will help him heal divisions in the community and around the world cure council.

“It brings a whole different dynamic to politics … and problem solving,” Nimer said. “If you can listen to all sides [of an issue] …and being able to understand and respect the points of view of others, even if you may not agree with them, then you can work to find sensible solutions.”

As a boy, Hodges lived between the St. George Temple and what is now Utah Tech University. He was raised a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, serving in a Spanish-speaking mission in the Scottsdale, Arizona area. He said his faith remains an integral part of his life and he considers his familiarity with the community to be one of his key assets.

Despite being the first openly gay person in St. George to run for public office, Hodges believes he has a reasonable chance of success. If elected, he will represent everyone, not just the LGBTQ community. One of his key areas of focus for the council would be to streamline St. George’s strict zoning laws, which he says are hampering the construction of more apartment buildings. He also wants zoning laws to be changed to allow small shops and other businesses to move closer to residential areas.

Additionally, Hodges wants to redesign the city’s website and set up a media liaison specialist whose job would be to disseminate information across a variety of social media platforms to ensure residents better understand what actions the city is considering and why.

“We’re a few years behind when it comes to technology,” Hodges said. “I’d like to see that in the 21st century.”

Only six will survive the primary

A total of 16 candidates are competing for three seats on the municipal council. Only the top six voters from the Sept. 5 primary will advance to the Nov. 21 general election, in which the three candidates with the most votes will win a seat on the council.

The crowded field includes incumbents Jimmie Hughes, longest-serving member of the council, Dannielle Larkin and Gregg McArthur. In addition to Knight and Hodges, challengers also include Aros Mackey, Fabian Ortiz, Matthew L. Heaton, Steve Kemp, Kimball Willard, Marilyn Rigby, Greg Aldred, Wendi Prince Bulkley, Brad Bennett, Paula Smith and Steven G. Jennings.

The Salt Lake Tribune will conduct an in-depth interview with the top six candidates emerging from September’s primary.

Justin Scaccy

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