Story and photo by CHAD MOBLEY
Salt Lake City is seen through the eyes of the nation as a conservative and religiously centered metropolitan area whose dominant Mormon culture controls everything from lawmaking to media consumption. However, the population is ever changing and growing more diverse all the time. The lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community is one segment of the population with organizations in place to help balance the scales and promote equality among all citizens in Utah. Equality Utah and the Utah Pride Center went to bat for the LGBT community during a recent controversy and the leaders involved felt the outcome was positive.
In late August 2012, KSL refused to air the new NBC comedy, “The New Normal.” That decision caused a media firestorm and many in the LGBT community in Salt Lake City to take action. The issue was covered by news outlets across the country, including the Los Angeles Times, Huffington Post and CBS. When the story first broke, the Utah TV station was portrayed as regressive and bigoted.
Not only did this decision catch the attention of the national media, but enraged advocates for gay rights in America.
GLAAD President Hernon Graddick was quoted in a blog from the organization’s website: “Same-sex families are a beloved part of American television thanks to shows like ‘Modern Family,’ ‘Glee’ and ‘Grey’s Anatomy.’ While audiences, critics and advertisers have all supported LGBT stories, KSL is demonstrating how deeply out of touch it is with the rest of the country.”
Graddick continued, “We invite Jeff Simpson (CEO for Bonneville Media, KSL’s parent company) to sit down with GLAAD and local LGBT families. We know that if he would, he would see that not only are our families normal, but by citing ‘crude and rude’ content and refusing to affirm LGBT families, KSL and Mr. Simpson are sending a dangerous message to Utah. They should make that right.”
Five days after KSL’s decision not to air the program, the director of the Utah Pride Center, Valerie Larabee, along with Equality Utah director, Brandie Balken, her family and another same-sex family sat down for a roundtable discussion with KSL and Bonneville Media.
The organizations then released a joint statement on Aug. 29 regarding the decision to pull the show from the primetime lineup.
According to KSL, “It was helpful to talk together, to better understand issues, and to be able to discuss the reasons behind our decision to not air ‘The New Normal.’ This was not a decision we made lightly and it was not made because of any single issue including gay characters or LGBT families. … We care about and value all members of our community, including LGBT people and their families, and are grateful when there can be the type of cordial and respectful dialogue we have had today.”
Equality Utah and the Utah Pride Center added in the statement, “We had a great opportunity to talk about our families and our kids. We appreciated the opportunity to express our concerns, and to hear firsthand the reasons behind this decision. We accept their explanation that the decision to pull ‘The New Normal’ was not made lightly and it was not made because of any single issue including gay characters or LGBT families.”
After having seen the show, Balken and Larabee agreed with KSL’s decision.
“Having the LGBT presence in the show was important,” Balken said in a telephone interview. “However, more than or equally important to just being present is how we are portrayed. We want to be represented as who we really are.”
Larabee added, “Once we saw the first episode, we got it completely. I agreed with them. We think it is very poorly written.”
One member of the local LGBT community felt relief knowing that advocates are ready to fight for their rights.
“That really does show what they are doing and how effective they are,” said Shalise Mehew of Salt Lake City. “I totally agree, I wouldn’t want it on primetime either.”
After a heated controversy over what seemed to be an anti-gay decision, a simple dialogue immediately alleviated concerns. A planned protest was cancelled, a joint statement was released and an understanding between two sides of the community was reached.
“It was the first step in helping to create trust between at least a segment of our community and the local media,” Larabee said.
The Utah Pride Center and Equality Utah continually monitor the media to correct any unfair reporting or disparaging portrayals of the LGBT community and its families. The two organizations maintain relationships with the media on a daily basis and they work with GLAAD when they have any major issues surrounding coverage or statements made by those in the media industry.
“Utah Pride Center and Equality Utah work tirelessly to promote tolerance and grow acceptance of LGBT people and families in Utah,” said Graddick of GLAAD on the website. “We are proud to be working with them.”
For the organizations, fighting for equality doesn’t stop with the media. One of their goals is to reach this same type of understanding between the LGBT community and the dominant religion.
“We are really invested in continuing conversations with LDS people,” Balken said. “We live in the same places, work in the same places and have kids in the same schools. Anytime people can and will sit down and really just be real with each other, it’s a great release and it’s positive.”