SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — The Salt Lake City Council has decided to name a street after pioneering gay leader Harvey Milk, the latest display of its position as a blue island in a sea of deep-red, where the prevailing Mormon faith still has a fraught relationship with the LGBT community.
Utah’s capital city recently elected its first openly gay mayor and its second sitting gay councilman, creating an increasingly friendly atmosphere for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community in the home of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
The conservative religion’s tone on gay issues has softened in recent years, but it still opposes same-sex marriage, believes homosexuality is a sin and recently banned baptisms for the children of gay parents. Faith leaders said the highly criticized move would avoid putting children in a tug-of-war between their parents and church teachings.
The Mormon church declined to comment on the council’s unanimous vote Tuesday to rename the street. Sponsor Stan Penford, the city’s first openly gay councilman, said that leaders likely would have reached out if they had a strong opposition.
Milk set the tone for the modern gay rights movement and his uncompromising calls for gay people to come out of the closet inspired a generation of activists, including many in Utah, said supporters who spoke at a Tuesday hearing that drew about 100 people.
“This sends a loud message that Salt Lake City values inclusion and diversity,” said Troy Williams, director of the group Equality Utah.
Several people spoke against the idea, with many saying that a local leader or inventor should be honored instead. The street serves as the ending spot for an annual parade honoring the deeply felt legacy of Mormon pioneers.
“Those are our pioneers, not San Francisco’s pioneers,” said resident Ralph Pahnke.
The street with the honorary name will be located near thoroughfares named for civil rights icons like Martin Luther King Jr. and Cesar Chavez. Lined with coffee shops, restaurants and a community garden, it runs through one of the city’s most in-demand neighborhoods.