Carrying posters, placards and even a wand, a group of 50 gay-rights activists demonstrated outside Temple Square during Saturday's sessions of the 161st Annual General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Local members of Queer Nation - a militant homosexual organization - protested the LDS Church's excommunication of homosexuals, promotion of heterosexual marriage and exclusion of homosexual marriages from LDS temples. They also targeted what they called anti-gay statements and writings by church leaders.With chapters in New York City, San Francisco and other major cities, Queer Nation has used confrontation in the past to express its views - "to fight against homophobia, heterosexism and anti-queer violence," according to a Queer Nation press release.
However, organizers called for "peaceful" demonstrations to attract attention from the 6,000 Mormons attending each conference session.
"We don't want to disrupt a religious service in any way," said spokeswoman Nancy Perez. "We want to be a visible presence." For the most part the protests were without incident.
Anticipating the announced protests, the LDS Church had released official statements on homosexuality and AIDS. "An individual with homosexual feelings can be a member in good standing and should not feel an outcast in the church. It is the sexual act outside of marriage - homosexual or heterosexual - that is not condoned and may lead to church discipline," said the statement.
Having met with protest organizers every day for the previous week and a half, a Salt Lake police detective said the demonstration involved few out-of-state protesters and few of the militant tactics discussed earlier.
"I guess cooler heads prevailed," said Sgt. Jim Bell, who helped monitor the two protest sessions Saturday - from noon to 2 p.m. and from 4 to 6 p.m. Between the two protests, the demonstrators marched to the State Capitol.
For the most part, the protests were without incident with the most tension occurring during the early afternoon event. One man passing by struck a woman protester and was later cited for misdemeanor assault by Salt Lake police. And a group of a dozen self-described skinheads confronted the gay protesters at the south entrance to Temple Square with their own verbal barrages.
Queer Nation members were alone in their later protest, as people left Temple Square after the Saturday afternoon session. Other than an occasional curt word and numerous glances, however, there was little exchange between conferencegoers and protesters.