SALT LAKE CITY — The mood was electric at Equality Utah's annual dinner with more than 2,000 people giving a standing ovation to filmmaker and activist Robert Redford as he offered his support for the state's LGBT community.
"I'm here for the same reason you are — equal rights for all," Redford told the group Monday night. "Like you, I believe there's no place in our world for discrimination. None."
Redford's tone was serious as he briefly addressed the sold-out crowd, dressed in red cowboy boots and denim jeans paired with a collared shirt and blazer. This was his first time at the annual Allies Dinner, an event for gay and straight Utahns celebrating together the campaign for equal rights for the LGBT community.
Redford began his remarks offering appreciation for the freedoms and rights that come with being Americans.
"I hope in this particular case that Utah can catch up," Redford added, answered by cheers. "What happens in Utah can matter in a profound way. Anytime you change the lines or change laws in Utah that are discriminatory, many are going to see it as a benchmark, possibly, for other places."
Gay and lesbian Utahns, many accompanied by friends and family, made up the crowd, which also included local politicians and community activists. Redford encouraged the group at the Salt Palace Convention Center to take courage under the night's theme, "Equality in My Community."
"The power of your personal story has the power to move hearts and minds, break down barriers and change points of view," he said.
Introducing the evening, Allies Dinner co-chairwoman Donna Weinholtz announced she predicts Utah will be the first conservative, Republican state to pass a comprehensive housing and workplace nondiscrimination bill, a hot issue at the 2013 Legislature.
Those local and national advances toward granting equal rights to the LGBT community encouraged Salt Lake City resident Doug Smith, who identified himself as a gay man, to attend the Allies Dinner for the first time Monday.
"I'm 60 years old, have five kids, and I've just decided, you know, it's time to stand up and speak out," Smith said. "It's about being a good neighbor, but the same things you expect of a neighbor, you need to be."
Chris and Debra Nelson, of Murray, were invited to the Allies Dinner by some of Chris' co-workers. While he initially said he didn't have a firm opinion about ensuring rights for same-sex couples, his support has grown as he has gotten to know some of his gay friends.
"It's hard to understand it until you know folks who are in those relationships," he said. "It's harder to judge people once you walk in their shoes a little bit and get to know them."
Upon learning about their experiences, Debra Nelson said she realized there were many aspects of being in a traditional relationship that she took for granted, such as passing on life insurance, making decisions if one partner is hospitalized or being able to marry.
"When they're a part of your lives, applying those same kind of prejudices to people that you love is a lot more difficult," she said.
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