Joy Beech says she never knowingly met any of the homosexuals whose lifestyle she decries. But that changed when the founder of Families Alert deigned to dine with a gay man with AIDS.
Not only did Beech and Roy Mark Harrison share sandwiches and turkey a la king at the Capitol cafeteria this past week, but the unlikely pair found common ground, a small patch on terrain long mined with suspicion."These ladies want to be out there and help, but they are going about it the wrong way, especially with gays and Mormons," said Harrison, a former hairdresser who learned last March he has acquired immune deficiency syndrome.
Harrison contacted Beech after he learned that Families Alert had complained to the State Board of Education because the director of the Salt Lake AIDS Foundation was giving AIDS education seminars to Utah teachers.
The instruction included information on condoms as a method of preventing transmission of the deadly virus, a concept Harrison supports.
Beech and her group said they protested because they believe the spread of AIDS can only be arrested by abstention from all sexual activity outside of marriage. Harrison knows how that idea is received by the homosexual community.
"My gay friends chuckle about ladies like Joy Beech because they might think you can change the homosexuals. You can't change a person's identity or gender, but you can change their way of thinking," Harrison said. "Being gay is just there. It will never go away."
At the luncheon, Harrison told Beech, a Mormon, that he had served a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, been excommunicated for homosexual activities and then was rebaptized into the religion. He said he has been celibate for several years, since again becoming a Mormon, and was stunned to learn he has AIDS.
Harrison told Beech he agreed that abstinence is by far the best way to control the spread of AIDS, but he added the idea does not work for everyone.
He said he wanted to meet with her to explain that some members of the homosexual community think groups like Families Alert contribute to the fear many have of AIDS and homosexuals. He also wanted to let her know what it is really like to know a homosexual.
Beech remained quiet during much of the lunch. But when it was over, she said she was glad Harrison had made the effort to meet with her. She said she had little to say because she thought it would be best to just listen.
"But that doesn't mean I agreed with everything he said," she added.
Beech said her group bases all its activities on the belief that morals should be taught in Utah schools, and that when morals are not taught, it's a violation of Utah law.
During the three-hour conversation, Beech read aloud from a letter Harrison had written to his family in Iowa, telling them he has AIDS. She requested a copy and said they may meet again soon.
"I see the possibility of forming a cooperative effort with Roy. I think he has a wonderful message to tell people," she said.
Harrison said he felt lucky that Beech had not been hostile.
"She wanted me to invite some other gays and I tried, but because of who she is, they wouldn't come with me," he said.
Ben Barr, director of the Salt Lake AIDS Foundation, admitted he was shocked to learn the two had met.
"I think it's wonderful they could meet and learn to talk to each other. It was a beautiful gesture, " he said, adding he wished he had been able to talk to Beech before her group sent the letter to the state school board complaining about his training sessions.
Harrison came away from the luncheon with a range of impressions.
"In a way, the ladies of Families Alert want this state to be a pure state, but the gay community here is as large as the gay community in San Francisco. They are going to live in homosexual lifestyles whether Families Alert wants them to or not," Harrison said.
However, Harrison said he was glad to find a willing listener in Beech and another Families Alert member, Sharon Ernst of Provo.
"They are good ladies," he said, "I am glad I got to speak to them even though I have a few differences."
Asked her impression of Harrison, Beech said his celibacy and return to Mormonism contained "a beautiful Christmas message."
"Roy is an example of how people can bring homosexual activities under control and live a healthier lifestyle," she said. "I think it has helped his AIDS. He looks great to me."