Panel breaks the silence about LGBT issues

Lee Beckstead lived under a veil of secrecy his entire childhood.

“I’ve learned to pass very well…I didn’t want anybody to know I was gay,” Beckstead said.

Beckstead was one of four panelists on hand in the Union Theatre Monday afternoon to discuss the interplay between sexual, cultural, religious and social identities as part of the Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgendered Resource Center’s Breaking the Silence.

Beckstead, who grew up as a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, said much of his youth was spent torn between his religious upbringing and his sexual feelings.

“My Mormon background was my Mormon foreground. My entire life was spent asking, ‘Am I gay or am I Mormon? Am I good or am I evil?'” Beckstead said.

That moral debate, Beckstead said, led to his eventual departure from the church and allowed him to come to terms with other parts of his identity.

“Who I am sexually was wrapped up in my religion. I had to disassociate from the church and the things they’re trying to do against me and my partner,” he said.

Debra Daniels, executive director of the Women’s Resource Center, joined Beckstead on the Monday afternoon panel. Third-year graduate student Torrence Wimbish and Inter-Tribal Student Association advisor Tony Shirley accompanied Beckstead as well.

Wimbish, who is black, said balancing his cultural identity with his sexual identity sometimes made things doubly hard.

“I can’t dribble a basketball to save my life and that terrified me. Every day, you think about, ‘Do I have to watch what I say or do,’ but one day I just said, ‘Screw it,'” Wimbish said.

The panelists also discussed their views on the current battle for state-sanctioned recognition of civil unions and the underside of the gay rights community both in Utah and nationwide.

“For me, human dignity is the same thing, no matter who you are or where you come from,” Daniels told the crowd of about 40. Shirley, who grew up on a Navajo reservation in Arizona until he left for college, said it’s hard for him to buy into the idea of marriage as a sacred institution.

“Marriage is not sacred, and it shouldn’t be viewed that way. If it’s so sacred, why is there so much divorce?” he said. Daniels, the mother of two teenage boys, has been with her partner for 15 years. For her, the debate has less to do with morality than it does with keeping power in the hands of those who have it.

“I don’t think it’s about acceptance of marriage. It’s about acceptance of same sex relationships, period. There’s no threat to marriage. What we are a threat to is the idea of privilege in this society,” she said. The panelists also took time to address what the U can do to improve diversity policies on campus for all students-ideas that ranged from allocating more money to student groups to providing students with a safe yet effective platform on which to report incidents of discrimination or bias.

“There are a lot of limitations that limit a lot of student groups and departments on campus,” Shirley said.

Daniels said that concept needs to be taken a step further. “I think policy is critical. We need to enforce policies regarding safety on campus and firmly stand behind them,” she said.

[email protected]