As an example is the recent Pride celebration. Yes, things have changed.
In the mid 1990s, I was president of my Davis County condominium committee when I received a personal letter from one of the residents. I had known Mitch from college (he was a student body officer), was acquainted with his career (a purchasing executive for a well-known Davis County business), and I was cognizant that he was a gay man. The letter told me much more.
“I have been diagnosed with AIDS,” he wrote. “I just want you to know that I do not intend to use the condominium swimming pool this summer. As much as I enjoy swimming, too many people would worry that I was passing infection on to them … I don’t know what my future holds, but I hope I can still count on you as a friend.”
This was a time when Karl Malone was fearful of contracting the disease from fellow NBA stars. This was a time when Davis County Sen. Craig Taylor led the crusade to ban gay clubs in Utah high schools.
This was a time when gay students were shunned, tormented, and sometimes physically assaulted (“I can’t walk past ‘Cowboy Corner’ without getting beaten up,” a Layton High student told me in the mid-80s.).
This was a time when local theater producers were leery to bring the successful New York production of the gay-themed “Rent” to Utah.
That was then. This is now.
The Pride celebration attracted more than 25,000 people. The Gay Pride parade listed over 100 entrants, larger than the number in the Days of ’47 Parade. Pride activities now receive financial sponsorships from mainline corporations like Wells Fargo, American Express, Petco, and Jet Blue Airlines. Clubs opposing discrimination of gay students have been formed in numerous Utah high schools.
And “Rent” … It just opened a two-week run at Pioneer Memorial Theater. “The world has evolved,” admits the director in an interview with a Salt Lake Tribune reporter. “People with AIDS don’t take their medication to the beep of a timer anymore, and now I’m working with a cast so young almost none of them have lost an associate to AIDS.”
The fear in the mainstream population of contracting AIDS has dwindled to a few talk radio fanatics (Utah still has several talk show radio hosts who told listeners that they could contract the disease through breathing the air around someone with AIDS or eating meals prepared by a gay chef.).
Sadly, AIDS has not gone away, but treatment has held the disease in check. Nationally, some 50,000 people will be infected with HIV; about 17,000 will die each year from AIDS.
Maybe the fear of walking past “Cowboy Corner” still exists, but an overwhelming number of people under age 35 supports either civil unions or the right of gays to marry, and the Utah Pride celebration exemplifies the change in attitudes.
I would have bet against such change in Utah – and I would have been wrong. I wish Mitch could have lived long enough to see it.
The views expressed in this column are the opinion of the writer and not necessarily those of the ownership or management of this newspaper.