When she moved from Washington state to Utah in 1979, Susan Roylance's reputation preceded her. The director of Planned Parenthood in Seattle wrote a letter to the director of Planned Parenthood Utah, saying Susan Roylance is headed your way. It was a letter of condolence.
And sure enough, Roylance wasn't long in Utah before she started lobbying the Legislature for parental-consent laws and speaking at protest marches at Planned Parenthood clinics. Articulate, energetic - she was a formidable adversary for a few years.Then, in the late 1980s, Roylance dropped away from the pro-life lobbying scene. Her disappearance was something of a mystery to the local pro-choice coalition.
Now, it seems, Roylance has re-emerged. And she's gone international. Today people in Paris, Beijing, New York and Istanbul know her name. They know that when she's heading off to another U.N. conference, they might want to send letters of alert.
She is still someone to be reckoned with. She lobbies for the things she's lobbied for all along, since the first of her seven children was a toddler. She began her career as an activist by writing letters to the editor. Eventually she became vice chairwoman of her county Republican Party, founded a group called United Families of America to lobby against the Equal Rights Amendment, and ran for Congress.
Roylance still cares about what she's always cared about: Mothers at home. Fathers at work. Children who are safe and protected. (That's safe and protected in the traditional sense. Not safe and protected as in having government-supplied birth control.) Roylance envisions a society without abortion or same-sex marriages, a place where people are self-reliant and self-controlled, a society where judiciously applied fertilizer, rather than population restriction, is the answer to feeding the world.
When it comes to working the United Nations, Roylance is probably the most savvy lobbyist to come out of Utah thus far. She knows what documents the United Nations is working on; she knows the history of the documents; she knows the nuances of the language within the documents; she knows how to work the U.N. rules so she can influence the language of the documents.
She explains that U.N. documents are basically treaties. They establish international law. What she seeks from international law is simply this: "To establish the importance of the family as the fundamental unit of society."
She doesn't do it alone. Roylance took 37 people with her to Istanbul last month. Most of them were from Utah. Most were LDS. But there were also a couple of women from Africa, one of whom - armed with family-values tapes by Steven R. Covey and Richard and Linda Eyre - has started United Families International chapters on that continent.
Even with a lot of help, establishing the importance of the family unit is hard work. In Istanbul, at the U.N. Habitat II conference, Roylance lobbied early and late. As the conference was about to close, and the debates slogged toward a stalemate, Roylance armed her volunteers with position papers. At the last minute, the delegates did agree on a document, and included in its pages were some paragraphs suggested by United Families International.
On the next to the last day of the conference, Roylance was up at dawn working on her computer in her tiny Istanbul hotel room. By 7 a.m. she was stationed on the hotel stairs. As her fellow lobbyists came looking for breakfast, she greeted them with printed invitations. She asked them to join her in staying the night at the final U.N. meetings.
Her invitations were printed on lovely stationery - cream-colored with a wide border of purple, blue and gold. Counting the case of paper, she lugged about 1,400 pounds of brochures, books and printing equipment to Istanbul.
Their stationery was worth its weight, she said. It set them apart. It looked expensive. Passing out her pretty invitations that morning, she told her fellow lobbyists, "Everyone at the conference is asking us why we are so well-financed." As she stood in the hall of their $17.50-a-night hotel, her voice broke into a chuckle over the words, "well-financed."
Despite the seriousness of her mission, Roylance laughed a lot in Istanbul. She seemed to thrive on the intrigue and thrill of diplomacy. International lobbyist seemed to be the career she was born for.
The place she was born is Darlington, Idaho. Her father owned a farm and potato-processing plant. She grew up believing people are easy to talk to, believing she could influence world events as easily as the events in her own town. "My mother says she could never hold me down," Roylance recalls.
Her family moved to Washington state when she was 10. There, her rural school was overcrowded and Susan's class went on half-day sessions. Her fourth-grade teacher told her she could spend her free time working ahead. She took off on her own. She remembers making a salt-dough map of the United States, her childish fingers forming all the mountain ranges. When the year ended, she'd covered fourth- and fifth-grade work.
This experience gave her confidence, in case she needed it, that she could achieve. In high school, she was elected class president, started a school drill team, was valedictorian and graduated with a 4.0 average.
She went off to college on a scholarship, met and married Bob Roylance, and helped him get through school. By the early 1960s, he was farming and she was having babies. With the Vietnam War under way, at a time when other women her age were protesting and marching and the seeds of the women's movement were being sown, Roylance found she, too, burned with a need to change the world.
The irony of it is not lost on her. She brings it up herself: While she was out there working against the ERA and driving the state in her efforts to be elected to Congress, she had a passel of little children at home. She says it is perhaps a blessing she didn't win political office, because her children turned out great and who knows what would have happened if she'd been any busier as a politician.
Her children are grown now, with children of their own. Roylance has more time, and no less desire, to make the world supportive of families. She began her international lobbying a little over a year ago, going to the preparatory meetings for the U.N. Women's Conference. Then she went to Beijing, to the actual conference. She started attending Habitat II PrepCons. Then she went to the actual conference in Istanbul. Thursday she left for Rome for the PrepCon for an international food conference.
And this trip, she says, might be her last. There are other Utahns who can do the job, she says. She thinks the international community needs to realize United Families is bigger than just one person.
Roylance also says it can take a toll on your health, all this advocacy. Then she reveals the reason she dropped out of lobbying 10 years ago, when she all but disappeared from the local pro-life scene. "It got to the point where if I was giving a talk about abortion, I'd be fine at the time, but afterwards, I'd throw up."
That's why she pulled out of her local lobbying efforts and why, today, she says, she tries so hard not to deal in negatives. "You can spend your life pointing out what is bad. I'm not opposed to that, it's fine for some people. But I try, always, to have a positive plan."
It's a fact: Abortion is legal in the United States. Roylance finds it immoral, but there are those in Utah, in the United States and at the United Nations who don't see it as a moral issue at all. She will not change their minds. She may or may not be referring to abortion when she says if there isn't a solution she no longer wants the stress of attacking the problem.
All this is not to say she doesn't think she can be effective. In fact, she is effective in the United Nations.
Her focus on the positive sets her apart from many of those who lobby the U.N. Her focus on the positive makes her much more effective than others who share her political views, says Melinda Kimble. Kimble is deputy secretary of state for international organizations. She led the U.S. delegation through the negotiations in Beijing and Istanbul. And she came to know Roylance quite well.
"She's a pleasure to work with," says Kimble. Kimble credits her with being one of the most responsible of the pro-life, pro-family lobbyists. "She always tells the truth. She tells you what she'd like you to work on but she accepts the fact that your guidance might be different from hers."
While other lobbyists were calling Bella Abzug "satanic," Roy-lance was talking about families. The name-calling, the inflammatory rhetoric, and the out-and-out lying has never been worse than it was in Istanbul, says Kimble. Roylance stayed out of the muck.
Kimble calls Roylance "sharp." But she admits there are others at the U.N. who think the word "devious" is more apt.
When South Jordan City Councilman Tom Christensen checked in at the U.N. conference last month, he was amazed at his reception. The man at the accreditation desk stared at him and, recognizing the name of South Jordan, Utah, told him he would not be allowed to use the microphone.
Christensen was half a world away from South Jordan, but because it's also Susan Roylance's hometown, people in Turkey knew where it was.
Roylance went to her first U.N. preparatory conference in 1995. She learned fast. She learned that much of the language that's debated at the actual conference is introduced at the PrepCon.
As the Habitat II conference approached, Roylance knew she needed to get involved early. She had some language she wanted to see introduced, for one thing a clause saying, "In different cultural, political and social systems, various traditional forms of the family exist."
Never before in the history of the United Nations, it is believed, has someone who is not a delegate been allowed to sit at a delegate's microphone and introduce language to be included in the official document. But the old rules changed at the the PrepCon meeting held in New York last February.
Local authorities, local government officials, were invited to participate on an equal basis with official delegates from the countries of the world. The United Nations was admitting it couldn't solve the world's problems and inviting local officials to help.
Roylance wanted to get ahold of one of those U.N. microphones, so she approached members of her local city council, gave them a copy of her book "The Traditional Family in Peril" and asked them how they'd like to let her represent them in the United Nations. Learning they wouldn't have to help pay her way, they agreed.
So she came to New York. And in a historic moment - not reported in the national press at all, and she thinks they missed the boat there - Roylance was the first representative of a city ever to address the United Nations. She caused something of an international incident.
She says she thinks the head of the United States' U.N. delegation was angry with her. Kimble says no. Roylance didn't anger the United States so much, says Kimble, but she did infuriate the entire European alliance.
From Paris, Anne Pons tries to explain why. Pons is the director of programs from the United Towns Organization. UTO is one of the largest associations of local governments in the world.
Says Pons, "When Susan Roy-lance says she comes to defend families, this is her personal opinion. It was a big problem. We had worked hard all together (as local authorities) to have a common voice.
"We have a worldwide charter of local authorities in order to build a network, to assure cooperation. There is nothing in our charter to defend the structure of traditional families or go against homosexuals."
Because of Roylance, "coming in with her own view," says Pons, the local authorities revamped their accreditation procedures before the Istanbul conference. Says Pons, they "convinced" Roylance that if she wanted to speak as a local authority, she needed to be an elected official.
Whether or not she was "convinced" they were right, Roylance was convinced they were about to close the loopholes. She began looking for an elected official to accompany the United Families group to Istanbul. Christensen agreed to come. He stresses that United Families, not the taxpayers of South Jordan, helped with his expenses.
Although he was told he'd not get a microphone, he did get a microphone in Istanbul. He turned it over to Roylance. She used the opportunity to define what she meant by the word "traditional."
Once again, international anger ensued. The chairman of the meeting apologized a few days after he screamed at Roylance. He said he thought she'd been trying to exclude single parents from the definition of traditional.
In fact, she meant to include single parents, Muslim polygamists and any other form that has traditionally been accorded legal status in any country in the world. Who she meant to exclude was homosexual couples.
But such exclusion is not within the pervue of local authorities, says Pons. The local authorities were supposed to focus on sustainable communities and health and clean air and water.
Roylance is not to be deterred. She believes personal opinions and personal convictions do have a place in the U.N. dialogue. She believes quite a few of the delegates from Third World countries share her views of morality. And if large countries like the United States and even larger countries like China - where population control is a cultural norm - can influence the dialogue, then smaller, poorer countries need to be encouraged to state their views, as well.
Melinda Kimble kind of sides with Roylance. "We are the people who set the rules and Susan Roylance abided by the rules and got accredited. Why should we be angry?" Besides, says Kimble, different points of view are healthy.
Presenting a different point of view can be a healthy or an unhealthy experience. That's what Roylance has learned, through years of lobbying. One way to keep your health is to keep sight of the fact that those who oppose you are human, too.
Keeping this perspective is something Roylance still struggles with. Her first lesson came back in the early 1970s, when she was lobbying against the ERA, and a young woman came up with tears in her eyes, saying something to this effect: You are lucky. You have a husband who loves you. But I don't and I have little children to support and I need some of the protections that this amendment could offer.
She continued to oppose the amendment, but she tried not to oppose the women who wanted it. She knows how it feels to be the subject of jeers and personal attacks.
When she brought 36 people to Istanbul last month, the group included some frustrated lobbyists. They are U.S. citizens, but they didn't feel represented by U.S. delegates who represented the wishes of a Democratic president.
Roylance understood their frustration and she gave them some advice. It may be good advice from the standpoint of being effective, but it is also good advice from the standpoint of saving your health, of not getting so caught up in the cause that it makes you sick.
"We need to be friendly to these people," Roylance said. "We don't agree politically, but as people we probably agree on a lot. If I lived next door to Melinda Kimble I would consider her to be a wonderful neighbor. She's probably a wonderful wife and mother. I'm sure she is."