The Salt Lake City LGBT community wants equal rights

Story and photo by VALERIA MONCADA

Many lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Utahns want equal rights. This does not only include equal marital status but also includes issues such as adoption, benefits, the protection of their children and the right to make choices for their partner.

Monica Martin, 22, and Hali Taylor, 23, have been dating for a year and living together in Logan for 10 months.

“Neither of us has been disowned or had our parents disappointed in us,” Martin said. “But my father was remarried this summer and he made it clear he didn’t want us introduced as a couple at his wedding because he didn’t want people focusing on us and our relationship rather than his marriage. In reality he was afraid that he would be judged as a father.”

Martin and Taylor have also encountered difficult situations where landlords did not want to rent them an apartment due to their sexual orientation.

“Renting an apartment was hard in a religious community,” Martin said. “Even though people are not supposed to discriminate, they do. We have had to be careful not to disclose our relationship to possible prospective landlords.”

When it comes to acceptance, some people are not as lucky as Martin and Taylor.

Berlin Schlegel, 20, who lives in Murray, did not have his family’s support during his coming-out process.

Berlin Schlegel, on the left, and Tadd Mecham are like any other couple: they enjoy reading together, hanging out and spending time with their dog.

“The biggest struggle I have had to overcome was the disapproval from my family,” Schlegel said. “My mom did not take my coming out well and it has since then created an ongoing conflict.”

Schlegel not only had to face family issues, but he also began to get cyberbullied.

“I would receive anonymous emails that said things like faggot, queer, homo, etc.,” he said. “There were not any instances that were very assertive, just a few offensive slurs here and there.”

In the lives of a gay or lesbian person there are more difficulties than just marriage. Equal rights, renting a place, buying a car and family situations all can be challenging.

Martin and Taylor have thought about these difficulties.

“Honestly marriage is the least of our worries,” Martin said. “I am more concerned about hospital rights, partnership rights, insurance, all the details that straight couples often take for granted. It scares me that one day I could end up in the hospital or Hali could and we would not be able to see one another without permission of an immediate family member.”

Others do worry more about equal marriage rights, such as Tadd Mecham, a student at the University of Utah.

“I am concerned that equal marriage rights will take longer than they should to become legally recognized nationwide it is already long overdue,” he said.

Mecham added, “If I want to get married it should not be a process of moving to another state. I should be able to get married and adopt if I want to. Also, it would be nice to be able to legally visit my partner if they were in a serious accident. Things like that should not fall under anyone else’s responsibilities.”

Martin worries about end-of-life issues. “If I die my wishes would be determined by my family who honestly has no clue what I want if such a thing were to happen,” she said.

“I would love to one day call Hali my wife, but if it cannot happen tomorrow or even five years from now that is OK, it doesn’t change how much I love her,” Martin said. “All we ask for is the ability to gain civil union rights.”

Sometimes there may not be any family members to decide what happens. Brandie Balken, the executive director of Equality Utah, recently related a story about friends of hers.

“Nikki and Ann had been together for 24 years, they had all of their paperwork put together,” she said. “Unfortunately Ann died of a heart attack. Nikki called the morgue and then went to pick up the body. She had every contract except Disposition of Remains.

“Ann’s parents were dead and she did not have any siblings, there was no one to give the body to because Nikki did not have that contract, Ann’s body goes to the state and Nikki does not have a say in what happens,” Balken added.

Despite all of the challenges the LGBT community faces, Martin stressed how ordinary their lives are.

“We are definitely normal,” Martin said. “We are best friends; we build forts like kids, have sushi dates and spend nights watching our favorite shows and doing homework together. And we could not be happier.”

Joy in the golden years

Story and photo by Jenna Cannon

What is the key to being happy in life’s later years? Riches? Career? Health? These are some of society’s theories about happiness. Clyde and Nancy Neilson have a different outlook on the subject.

Clyde and Nancy Neilson spend time with each other at their home in Cottonwood Heights.

“Feeling like you have a purpose and being needed by the ones you love is what makes you happy,” Clyde Neilson said.

Elderly people often become depressed when they realize they are nearing the end of their lives, said Kenneth Poulsen, gerontology care manager at the Magna Senior Center in Magna, Utah. But those who have meaningful relationships have a more positive outlook on life, he said.

“Relationships and social connections appear to be the key to aging well,” said Scott D. Wright, director of the Gerontology Interdisciplinary Program Center on Aging at the University of Utah.

These relationships can be found in friends, family members, a spouse or a neighbor. “Studies have shown that having someone to spend time with improves the quality of life for the elderly,” Poulsen said.

The Neilsons say their relationship is a positive influence in their lives. They have been happily married for 54 years. Although they have trials and problems they say they find joy in the little things.

At the age of 79, Clyde’s face holds a youthful expression of wonder rather than that of worry that so often comes with age. His wife said she long ago gave up trying to tame his hair. It sticks up in various places as though he’s a young boy who has been outside playing.

Nancy Neilson is 72. Unlike her husband, she reveals some worry in her face. But with a word or two her husband can crack her nervous exterior and have her giggling like a teenage girl.

The Neilsons give off the distinct impression that they really care for one another. “It makes me feel special when I can do something that brings my husband joy,” Nancy said.

“I’ve seen many couples that love each other, but are too concerned with themselves to make it work. Some people don’t understand that you have to put your spouse’s needs first and vice versa to truly be happy,” said Carol Washburn, a psychologist of marriage and family relationships.

The Neilsons said they try to look out for one another in every aspect of their lives, from work, to family, to health.

Both have fairly good physical health, but Nancy’s mind is slowly ebbing. “She has trouble remembering things all the time,” Clyde said. Because of her memory loss, he takes her to work with him at Miller’s Honey Company at least once a week to stimulate her mind.

Clyde retired many years ago, but he still works because he finds it entertaining. He laughed at the idea of retiring.

“The best part of retirement is the anticipation. When it actually gets here it’s not that fun,” he said.

He also likes to work because he can bring in extra money for things like vacations and an inheritance for his four children, he said. They make him feel needed.

“I think it’s important for us to have enough money to leave to our kids when we’re gone,” he said.

Nancy expressed concern that her husband does more for her than she does for him. With this assessment she anxiously began picking at her nails. With a loving smile, Clyde reached across the table and held his wife’s hand gently in his callused fingers.

“You do more for me than I could ever dream of,” he told her genuinely.

These small acts of charity illustrate the importance of having someone to care about and care for you in return.

“When the elderly people at the senior center have the opportunity to help one another, the joy on their faces is truly memorable,” Poulsen said.

Another couple in their late 60s said doing little things for one another keeps them happy. Jim and Connie Carter like to surprise one another to maintain the youthful joy in their relationship.

“Jim knows I love cupcakes from Backer’s so he brings me home a delicious chocolate cupcake every once in a while,” said Connie. “It’s a welcome surprise that I will never tire of.”

The Carters also try to spend plenty of time with one another. They recently started doing financial consulting together.

“The time we spend working together has become a real treat in our lives,” Jim said.

Many elderly people have lost their spouse but are still content and happy with their lives. Washburn attributed this to the other relationships they maintain.

“Surrounding yourself with family members or other people you love is an ideal move towards happiness,” she said.

Grace Pace, an 86-year-old widow, said when she starts feeling lonely she remembers her children. With the click of a button she can call a family member to ease the burden of loneliness.

“It’s been hard ever since my husband passed, but having my family around keeps me upbeat. Sharing my life with my family truly makes me happy,” she said.

Native American mixed-race relationships in Utah

by ALLISON JOHNSON 

Jonathan and Mandie Hansen are a typical married couple. They live in the suburbs, enjoy their weekly date nights and love going on vacations with their young son. However, one major difference separates them from other couples: race. Mandie is white and Jonathan is Native American.  

According to Jonathan, mixed-race relationships are a sensitive issue in Utah. 

“People want to pretend that you don’t exist,” he said. “They don’t want to deal with you.”

However, according to recent statistics, mixed-race relationships are steadily increasing with more and more people deciding to marry and date outside their race.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the number of interracial marriages has soared over the last 35 years. Overall, the Bureau calculates that more than 7 percent of America’s 59 million married couples in 2005 were interracial, compared to less than 2 percent in 1970.

Being an interracial couple is never easy.  Dealing with challenges including racism, cultural differences and raising biracial children in a largely white area can be taxing, no matter how strong a relationship is. Are the challenges associated with being an interracial couple worth it?

Marrying Other Ethnic Groups

Despite the increase in interracial marriages as a whole, mixed-race marriages involving Native Americans remain low. They account for less than 1 percent of interracial marriages in the United States.

Even though mixed-race marriages involving Native Americans are uncommon, Jonathan, 32, and Mandie Mortensen, 30, don’t consider their relationship unconventional. Not now, at least. 

When Mandie first announced to her conservative family, who reside in West Valley, that she was engaged to a Navajo man, they were less than enthusiastic.

“My family pretended that they were all right with me marrying Jonathan, but I knew better,” Mandie said. “[Because] of their hesitancy, it made me question our relationship as well. It took me a few months before I finally [decided] that I loved Jonathan and would marry him with or without my family’s approval.”

Jonathan and Mandie were married in 2002. After a lot of compromise, Mandie says her family has finally warmed up to Jonathan.

“They see that I love him and that [our] marriage is solid,” Mandie said. “I think they are happy because I’m happy.” 

Throughout the six years of their marriage, Mandie and Jonathan have learned to take things one day at a time. They have accepted the fact that being in an interracial marriage always comes with challenges. They will always have to deal with racism and cultural issues, but are trying to make understanding and cooperation the basis of their marriage.

“I’m not Navajo. I never will be,” Mandie said. “But I’m married to a wonderful man who is Navajo so I need to respect their traditions and way of life.”

Marrying Between Tribes

While many Native Americans are not marrying whites, Asians, or African Americans, many are marrying outside of their tribe. While these unions might not be “interracial” by traditional definitions, they can still bring up cultural issues.

When Dayna Jones, 27, a Navajo, started dating Chris Jorgensen, 31, a Ute, she was certain their relationship would never work. Dayna was concerned that because they were from different tribes, their values and beliefs would be too different.

“I was raised in a very traditional Navajo family,” Dayna said. “No one in my family has ever dated or married [someone] from a different tribe. How could I suddenly go against my upbringing and date a Ute?”

Much like Dayna, Chris was also hesitant about dating outside of his tribe.

“Even though we are both Native Americans, Utes and Navajos have different ways of doing things,” Chris said. “I thought dating a Navajo would simply mean too many compromises.”

Despite their initial reluctance to get involved with one another, love quickly bloomed between them.

“I couldn’t help that I fell in love with a Ute,” Dayna said. “Once I started to develop serious feelings for Chris, what tribe he was from didn’t seem to matter so much.”

Chris and Dayna have now been married for three years. They are the first to admit it has been challenging. One of the main issues they have had to deal with involves blending their families.

“When I first married Dayna, my mother did not approve of her,” Chris said. “She wanted me to marry a Ute and Dayna did not fit the mold. She is more accepting of her now that we are married, but I am positive there are still some feelings of resentment there.”

Chris and Dayna also frequently have disagreements about how to raise their 1-year-old daughter, Nicole. Because Nicole is both Navajo and Ute, they want her to feel connected with both tribes.

“We want [Nicole] to grow up with a strong sense of identity,” Dayna said. “Figuring out how to teach her both Navajo and Ute traditions is the complicated part. We don’t ever want her to think that one [tribe] is more important than the other.”

Even though marrying someone from a different Native American tribe has not been simple, Chris says he has no regrets.

“My [marriage] with Dayna is not perfect, but what marriage is?” Chris said. “I love her and that has always been the most important thing.”

Raising Biracial Children

Biracial children have become commonplace in modern society. More and more children are growing up with parents of different races, learning two or mote sets of traditions, values, even languages.

Mandie and Jonathan know firsthand that raising a biracial child is never easy. The couple says they have struggled teaching their 6-year-old son, Jack, about both his Navajo and white heritage.

“Teaching your child about two different heritages is a tough thing,” Jonathan said. “Jack seems confused about the fact that he is both white and Navajo. Hopefully that will become clearer to him as he gets older.”

Mandie and Jonathan have tried to incorporate both white and Native American traditions into everyday life so that Jack is constantly surrounded by his heritage.

“I try to cook traditional meals once in a while and have been teaching Jack some Navajo words,” Jonathan said. “We also make sure that we visit both sides of the family often so that he is exposed to both cultures. He definitely loves learning about both cultures.”

Even though Jack is only 5, Mandie and Jonathan are hopeful he will continue to relate to both his Navajo and white heritage as he gets older.

“Jack is already proud of his heritage,” Mandie said. “We think it will continue as he grows older if we [continue] to emphasize the importance of both cultures.”

Ultimately, the couple thinks the most important thing they can do is love their son and make sure he knows that the color of his skin is not the most important thing.

“We want our son to grow up and know that he is loved,” Jonathan said. “In our family, love is more important than race ever will be.”