First Unitarian Church Supporting Its LGBTQ Members and Friends

By Michele Page and Sue Geary

In keeping with Unitarian Universalism’s first principle “We believe in the inherent worth and dignity of all people,” First Church has always welcomed everyone. As the song says, “all are welcome, all are welcome, all are welcome in this place.” In its more recent history, the First Church community has become more intentional in its advocacy and support of our lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and non-binary members, friends, and visitors. Several actions and traditions stand out as examples of our regard for this group.

Welcoming Congregation

First Church completed the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) requirements to become a Welcoming Congregation and secured this status by a vote of the congregation in 1999. As the UUA defines it, “being welcoming means striving for radical inclusion, and creating spaces that honor every part of our identities, backgrounds, and experiences.” Among the commitments that we made with this decision are:

  1. Affirmation and nondiscrimination in all aspects of congregational life;
  2. Worship that celebrates diversity by use of inclusive language and content;
  3. Celebrations of evolving definitions of family including weddings and memorial services;
  4. Outreach and support of other affirming organizations; and
  5. Attention to legislative developments and speaking out for justice.

Worship and Congregational Life

The staff and leadership of First Church have been attentive to assuring that we adopt inclusive language in our written publications, worship services, and gatherings. We have worked to refine the art of welcoming by chartering a committee dedicated to that effort and by training of congregants. Families of same-sex couples are integrated well into the life of our congregation. The maturity education curriculum that we offer, Our Whole Lives (OWLS), has become broader and more inclusive of all gender orientations. Reverend Tom Goldsmith has officiated commitment ceremonies for many years and may now officiate legal weddings. Many genuine and lasting friendships have been established as the First Church community eagerly embraced its status as a Welcoming Congregation.

Outreach and Support of Other Affirming Organizations

Pride Parade and Interfaith Worship Services. The highest-profile series of public events for the Utah Pride Center includes a parade and an interfaith worship service. These Pride Day events began in 1990, and the parade has grown to rival Salt Lake City’s annual Days of ’47 Parade.

In or about 2009, Richard Teerlink organized members of the First Church to join other faith groups in marching in the Pride Parade holding the football-field-length Pride Flag. That year, there was a change of schedule, so “the flag holders” waited in the rain for an hour before the parade began, as the flag got wetter and heavier. That might have been our first, but certainly not last, venture into the annual parade.

Our Social Justice Council has secured a parade entry for our church each year since 2010. Most of those years, we marched as a group behind a Standing on the Side of Love banner. We had various
t-shirts printed for congregants to wear while marching in the Pride Parade. We have invited and been joined by members of both Ogden and South Valley UU congregations.

In 2016, as we approached our church’s 125th anniversary, we formed a Pride Parade Committee to build a float depicting and celebrating our long history as a progressive church in Salt Lake City. Committee members included Marion and Greg Johnson, Alice Brown, Matthew Wilson, Colleen and Rick Bliss, Sue Geary, and Michele Page. Church member, C.J. Sadiq, who has an extensive collection of costumes, dressed us to represent the many generations that have made contributions to equality, including suffragettes, hippies, millennials, and everyone in between. A speaker system played music relevant to the occasion “Goin’ to the chapel and we’re, gonna get married” as Reverend Tom Goldsmith stood at a pulpit on the float and performed the “marriage” of Joan Gregory and Judy Lord, whose husbands didn’t voice any objection. Of course, we should have won the award for Most Original Float that year, but we did not. We are, however, winning the equality battle, one day at a time.

First Church has also had a presence at most of the Interfaith Worship Services held during Pride weekend. Representatives of our Social Justice Council have participated in the planning for some of these services. In 2018, members and friends were a part of the choir formed for the service.

Equality Utah Allies Dinners. The major celebration and fundraising event for Equality Utah is its annual Allies Dinner. One of First Church members and leaders, Andrea Globokar, organized table sponsorships for First Church for many consecutive years of this event. First Church congregants have filled as many as three ten-seat tables at this event showing our commitment to the goals and work of Equality Utah.

Attention to Legislative Developments and Speaking Out for Justice

Valentine’s Day Action for Marriage Equality. During the 2010-11 church year, Jamila Tharp served a ministerial internship at First Church as a part of her studies at Starr King School for the Ministry. Jamila and her wife, Michelle Hastings, organized a Valentine’s Day Action for Marriage Equality at the Salt Lake County Offices in coordination with Marriage Equality USA. The action included a short program with area clergy speaking for the equal right to marry for gay and lesbian couples. Couples then proceeded to the office of the County Clerk, each requesting a marriage license knowing the clerk’s staff would have to deny their requests.

Reverend Tom Goldsmith was among the clergy who accompanied couples from their congregations. Reverend Harold Straughn led members of our church choir in singing love songs during this part of the event. Several local television and radio stations covered the action. The event was a poignant and visible reminder of the inequalities that LGBTQ individuals and couples endure.

We could never have imagined that, just three years later, plaintiffs in a marriage equality lawsuit in Salt Lake City would be victorious in securing the legal right to marry on December 20, 2013. On that day, hundreds of couples returned to that same county clerk’s office to receive their marriage licenses, including some within our congregation.

Legislative Action and Rallies. Each year, First Church joins other area faith communities as a part of the Coalition of Religious Communities for a day of lobbying for legislation that affects economic justice and equality. This annual event has given us visibility and connection with members of other progressive faiths and acquainted some of our members with the state legislative process.

In addition to that organized action, individual church members have given testimony at committee hearings, called and written state and congressional representatives, written letters to the editors of area newspapers, and worked with other organizations for legislation to include LGBTQ citizens in hate crimes legislation, to assure marriage equality, to protect adoption and surrogate parenting rights for lesbian and gay couples, and to prohibit discrimination in employment and housing. In 2018, Reverend Monica Dobbins joined the leadership of The People’s Justice Forum which tracks legislation and advocates for a range of social justice issues. Finally, First Unitarian Church consistently has a large and visible presence at rallies and actions organized in response to legislative and administrative proposals that threaten the equality of LGBTQ people.