Saturday, July 11, 2009

The LDS Church Plays Smear The Queer

Two men were singled out and treated unfairly by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saint because they were gay. Salt Lake City police arrested the two for trespassing when they were asked to leave the Church's Main Street Plaza when they asked, as many of us would, on what grounds they were being asked to leave.

On Thursday night, Derek Jones and his boyfriend, Matt, walked through the plaza holding hands. One reportedly kissed the other, and that's when security guards asked them to leave.

"We were called at about 10:25 p.m. by LDS security to come over to their property where two males were in custody for refusing to leave the property," explained Salt Lake police Sgt. Robin Snyder.

The couple was cited for trespassing. Snyder says the law allows the owner of a property to kick someone out for any reason.

"A property owner has the right to ask someone to leave their property. If they do not leave that property, then they have violated an ordinance, a Salt Lake City ordinance, which is trespassing. So, the police became involved," Snyder said.

The Church released a statement saying the couple was "asked to stop engaging in inappropriate behavior just as any other couple would have been. They became argumentative and used profanity and refused to leave the property. They were arrested and then given a citation for criminal trespass by SLPD."

"If this is a public place, such as a park, that's a whole different story," Snyder said.

But Jones paints a different picture. In a blog, Jones wrote: "This especially irked the both of us because having walked through on a frequent basis (we often walk to work through there) and every time I have been through there are either marriage ceremonies going on, young Mormon couples cuddling in front the fountain, hugging, holding hands, etc.

"Matt then tried to get them to admit they were singling us out because they just didn't approve of ‘gay' public displays of affection, baiting them into revealing their bigotry."

This story has already been completely warped and changed by the media as well as the church. This is the true account of what happened Thursday night and it's nothing less that bigotry, intolerance and an abuse of the law.....Matt and Derek were only passing hand-in-hand through the plaza on their way home from the Twilight Concert Series at the Gallivan Center. The couple did not know the public-access through way was also private LDS church property. A large number of Utahans and most non-resident visitors are unaware of the controversial 1999 sale of Salt Lake City's Main Street, from North Temple to South Temple Streets, to the LDS church resulting in our current legal conundrum.

Derek and Matt live opposite the plaza from the Gallivan Center. Because the plaza consumes such a large amount of the downtown area, expecting pedestrians to circumvent it to get to the other side is simply unreasonable. For this purpose, a condition of the sale was that it remain open to the general public. While the property was purchased by the church, Matt and Derek have as much legal right to pass through holding hands as "Brother and Sister Jones" do.

To say Matt and Derek were kissing is misleading. Unlike LDS couples' open-mouthed kisses for photographers on the plaza following their temple ceremonies, Matt simply put his arm around Derek and gave him a peck on the side of his head as they walked along. While open-mouthed kisses, indeed an intimate display of affection, remain controversial even among straight couples in public areas, closed-mouthed kisses on heads are a rather platonic expression of affection, often exchanged between parents and children. Matt and Derek are subjects of a pernicious double standard.

Derek and Matt did not refuse to leave the open public plaza, but were arrested by church security guards when they attempted to question their legal right to pass through the public easement (a point on which, as I've already established, they were uninformed). It seems a brief explanation of the Church's ownership of what was previously government property might have been appropriate. Instead, Matt and Derek were brutally thrown to the ground and handcuffed with zip-ties by church security guards even though they were in no way exhibiting violent or threatening behavior.

It has been implied that the couple were drunk at the time of arrest. This is simply not true. Derek purchased and consumed a beer at the Gallivan Center during the concert. A beer. One. One beer does not a drunk make. Furthermore, they were walking home, not driving. Derek's alcohol consumption was in no way irresponsible, illegal, or disruptive and as such completely irrelevant to the incident and not included in the charges.

Ultimately, the couple were cited with Class C misdemeanors of trespassing, even though they would have passed quickly through the plaza had they not been detained by church security guards.

Matt and Derek inadvertently broke the law (the law being ambiguous contractual language which allows the church to decide what behavior is vulgar and disruptive and apply it unevenly according to its political agenda). But these gentlemen did not break the spirit of the law as they passed peacefully through the plaza. They meant no harm. I'm convinced the intentions of the church security guards (being both employees and members) who assaulted the couple, and the institution (whose separation from state remains dubious and problematic) which pressed charges against them, were not as unbiased as they would have us believe.


Dawson said...

You know what we should do? We should get massive amounts of people to show up at the temple on a specified day and time to hold a huge kissing protest - where people can kiss their significant others, their friends, even complete strangers - regardless of gender - in a show of solidarity for our oppressed and discriminated brothers! ;-D