Tag Archives: utah

Singer resigns over Mormon Tabernacle Choir’s decision to perform at Trump inauguration

A member of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir says she has resigned from the famed group over its decision to perform at the inauguration of President-elect Donald Trump.

Jan Chamberlin posted her resignation letter to choir leaders on her Facebook page earlier this week.

In it, she writes that by performing at the Jan. 20 inaugural, the 360-member choir will appear to be “endorsing tyranny and fascism.”

She says she feels betrayed by the choir’s decision to take part.

The choir is part of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.

Church spokesman Eric Hawkins tells The Salt Lake Tribune that participation in the choir and the inaugural performance is voluntary.

Hawkins said last week the choir’s tradition of presidential performances isn’t “implied support of party affiliations or politics.”

 

Jessica Williams, Cate Blanchett star in Sundance premieres

Former “Daily Show” correspondent Jessica Williams flexes her dramatic chops. Cate Blanchett pays homage to great 20th century artists and “Silicon Valley” star Kumail Nanjiani tells a very personal story in some of the films premiering at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival.

Programmers announced their selections for the documentary and narrative premiere sections at the Sundance Film Festival, which has launched films like “Boyhood,” “Manchester by the Sea” and “O.J.: Made in America.”

As with many years, the Sundance premiere slate can be a place for well-known comedians to take a stab at more dramatic and serious roles.

In what’s expected to be one of the breakout films and performances of the festival, comedian Jessica Williams stars in Jim Strouse’s “The Incredible Jessica James,” about a New York playwright recovering from a breakup and finding solace in a recent divorcee.

Nanjiani is another who might surprise audiences in “The Big Sick,” which he co-wrote with his wife Emily V. Gordon and is based on their own courtship. He stars alongside Zoe Kazan in the Michael Showalter-directed pic.

The festival also has films featuring veteran stars in different kinds of roles.

Shirley MacLaine stars in “The Last Word,” about a retired businesswoman who strikes up an unlikely friendship with a journalist (Amanda Seyfried) after writing her own obituary.

Festival founder Robert Redford, too, is in Charlie McDowell’s “The Discovery,” about a world where the afterlife has been proven. Jason Segel and Rooney Mara also star.

Cate Blanchett re-enacts artistic statements of Dadaists, Lars von Trier and everyone in between in “Manifesto.”

Michelle Pfeiffer and Kiefer Sutherland co-star in the drama “Where is Kyra.”

“Avengers” Jeremy Renner and Elizabeth Olsen re-team in the FBI crime thriller “Wind River,” the directorial debut of “Hell or High Water” writer Taylor Sheridan.

“Bessie” director Dee Rees is poised to be a standout with “Mudbound,” a racial drama set in the post-WWII South and starring Carey Mulligan, Jason Clarke, Jason Mitchell and Mary J. Blige.

“It’s quite topical to this time even though it’s a period piece,” said festival director John Cooper.

Among the documentaries premiering are a look at the Oklahoma City bombing from Barak Goodman; Stanley Nelson’s examination of black colleges and universities, “Tell Them We Are Rising”; and Barbara Kopple’s account of a champion diver who announces he is transgender, “This Is Everything: Gigi Gorgeous.”

“The beauty of independent film is it’s not a copycat world, unlike some of the Hollywood stuff where they follow trends,” said programming director Trevor Groth. “Independent film has always been about originality and choice and something different.”

The 2017 Sundance Film Festival runs Jan. 19- 29.

 

On the Web

www.sundance.org/festival

White supremacist for Trump gay baits independent Utah candidate

Evan McMullin, an independent candidate for president who’s running strong in Utah, is blasting Donald Trump over automated calls to voters from a white nationalist supporter condemning McMullin as a “closet homosexual” and “open-borders amnesty supporter.”

McMullin responded on Twitter, calling the smear campaign another “desperate attack” spreading “baseless lies” by Trump and his “racist supporters as he continues to lose ground in Utah.” He said the attack is consistent with Trump’s “bigoted, deceitful campaign and vision for America.”

White nationalist William Johnson said the call wills will continue to go out through Wednesday to 193,000 voters in Utah, where polls show McMullin is threatening to top Trump in a backlash from the mostly Mormon electorate.

Many Republican-leaning voters who are steeped in Utah’s culture of courtesy and fed up with Trump’s crudeness and antics have embraced McMullin. If McMullin prevailed, he would be the first non-GOP candidate to win the state since 1964.

In the 40-second call, Johnson introduces himself as a “farmer and white nationalist.” He says McMullin is OK with legalizing gay marriage and with the fact that he “has two mommies,” a reference to McMullin’s mother marrying a woman after divorcing his father. He also questions McMullin’s relationship status.

“Evan is 40 years old and is not married and doesn’t even have a girlfriend,” Johnson says. “I think he is a closet homosexual.”

McMullin, a Mormon, told the Salt Lake Tribune that he knows people wonder why he has not married, considering many in his religion marry in their early 20s. He said his 11-year career in the CIA made it difficult to date and that he hopes to marry and become a father soon.

On same-sex marriage, McMullin said he believes marriages between a man and a woman are best for society but he respects the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2015 decision legalizing gay marriage.

Williams’ call is a “false and revolting” call that “smears Evan McMullin’s private life,” his campaign strategist Joel Searby said in a statement.

“Donald Trump has mainstreamed and normalized white nationalists, xenophobes, and bigots of all descriptions,” Searby said.

Trump has faced criticism in the past for retweeting posts from the accounts of white supremacists and failing to immediately denounce the support of former Ku Klux Klan grand wizard David Duke.

Johnson is among the many white supremacists who have credited Trump with invigorating their cause.

 

 

Judge weighing Utah law banning undercover farm filming

A federal judge is considering whether a Utah ban on hidden cameras at slaughterhouses that was passed amid a wave of similar measures around the country violates the right to freedom of speech.

U.S. District Judge Robert Shelby said he’s spent hours considering the issues raised by the case, including the balance between private property rights and the First Amendment.

Animal activists argue the law is an unconstitutional attempt to keep them from exposing inhumane or unsafe practices at factory farms. The state of Utah contends the First Amendment doesn’t allow people to enter private property under false pretenses and record however they want.

“I don’t think there’s a constitutional right to spy,” said Kyle Kaiser with the Utah Attorney General’s Office. The law makes farm facilities safer by barring unskilled undercover operatives, he said.

Shelby questioned both sides closely. He asked whether there’s any evidence of activities asking activists seriously disturbing safety at farm facilities, and Kaiser conceded there was none.

On the other side, the judge asked activists whether business competitors, for example, should be able to plant recording devices to steal trade secrets. Lawyer Matthew Liebman with the Animal Legal Defense Fund said corporate espionage wouldn’t pass legal muster and property owners do have the right to remove someone caught with a camera. But it’s different when the state gets involved, he said.

“What we’re trying to protect against is a government motive to silence speech,” Liebman said. The Utah law was part of national push to stop embarrassing videos from animal-rights groups, not agricultural safety, he said.

The hearing came after a judge in Idaho found a similar law violates the First Amendment _ a win for activists that they’re aiming to repeat in eight states with similar rules.

Idaho is appealing that ruling.

At least five people have been charged under the Utah law since it was passed in 2012, though those cases have since been dropped.

Four were animal activists from California who were cited outside a large Iron County hog farm in 2015. The charges were later dropped because the farm didn’t want to pursue them.

A woman who once faced a misdemeanor count after being accused of filming a front-end loader dumping a sick cow outside a slaughterhouse in 2013 is a plaintiff in the case challenging the law, along with Animal Legal Defense Fund and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.

Media groups have also joined the lawsuit, saying the law violates the First Amendment.

The Animal Agriculture Alliance, U.S. Poultry and Egg Association and other groups have lined up to support the state.

Salt Lake City names street for Harvey Milk

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, maintains 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 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.

Milk became one of the first openly gay people to be elected to public office in the U.S. when he won a seat on San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors in 1977. A disgruntled former city supervisor assassinated him and San Francisco Mayor George Moscone at City Hall in 1978.

The activist’s life was memorialized in the Oscar-winning 2008 movie “Milk,” and he also has been honored with a commemorative stamp and a posthumous Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama. The San Diego City Council approved naming a street for Milk in 2012, something officials said was a first.

The honorary name will be placed on part of a street that is nine blocks from Mormon church headquarters. Temple Square was the site of protests in 2008 after the church supported efforts to pass a short-lived gay marriage ban in California.

Mormon leaders subsequently softened their tone, backing a Utah anti-discrimination law last year that protects gay and transgender people from housing and employment discrimination while safeguarding the rights of religious groups and individuals.

As many as two-thirds of Utah’s 3 million residents are believed to be members of the Mormon religion, though some are more involved in the faith than others.

Utah’s capital also has supported a thriving LGBT community. An annual LGBT pride parade is the second largest in the state — behind only the yearly celebration of Mormon pioneers.

The city’s first openly gay mayor, Jackie Biskupski, took office this year, as well as its second sitting gay councilman. Derek Kitchen and his husband were one of three couples who sued to overturn the state’s same-sex marriage ban.

 

Navajo Nation president: Suicides linked to pollution of sacred waterways

In testimony before Congress, letters to the federal government and press releases, Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye and his vice president have brought up recent tragedies that have shaken some reservation towns to their cores.

They said eight people killed themselves in communities impacted by the unleashing of toxic waste from a Colorado gold mine into the San Juan River on the Navajo Nation, burdened by the stress of seeing a sacred waterway polluted.

“When you’re being abandoned in your great time of need, what do you do? It causes great amount of distress,” Begaye said at a recent Senate Indian Affairs Committee hearing where he pleaded for more resources from the federal government over the spill.

Some residents in the affected communities were skeptical, wondering whether there’s a direct correlation between the mine spill and suicides. Some saw the suggested link as an effort for tribal leaders to score political points on a national stage.

Residents in the region learned something was wrong with the river — a vital source of water for livestock, drinking and crops — through social media, radio reports and by seeing new people around their towns. The Aug. 5 spill took days to reach the reservation.

Farmers wept at the sight of their crops wilting, livestock owners started hauling water from elsewhere to sustain their animals and the tribal utility stopped pulling drinking water from the river.

Begaye responded harshly to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and hosted prominent environment advocate Erin Brockovich on a tour of the reservation.

Begaye invoked suicides in a letter to the Federal Emergency Management Agency on Oct. 2, asking for a preliminary damage assessment from the mine spill. The agency denied the request.

Begaye also referenced “three suicides in communities that were affected by the Gold King Mine spill” in a mid-September plea to the federal government for mental health and cancer treatment facilities on the reservation.

He told the Senate Indian Affairs Committee of the suicides a day later during a hearing on the impacts of the mine spill.

A spokesman for the president at the time said Begaye was referring to suicides in the Utah portion of the Navajo Nation.

Begaye and Vice President Jonathan Nez have said the tribe’s Department of Health is investigating any connection between the suicides and the mine spill. Neither one responded to repeated requests for comment from The Associated Press.

Messages left at the health department weren’t returned.

Between July 1 and Oct. 15, at least 10 people died of suicide in the two police districts that cover communities along the San Juan River, according to Navajo police statistics. Six of those happened after the mine spill.

The statistics also show more than three times as many suicide attempts in those districts.

But the communities also suffer deep hardships like rampant unemployment, poverty, alcoholism and domestic violence that are major contributors to high suicide rates – an issue on American Indian reservations nationwide.

The suicide rate for American Indians aged 15 to 24 is more than twice the national rate.

Local churches responded to the suicides with prayer walks. Students participated in a program about American Indian pride and values, helping one another and leadership. Tribal, county and state agencies sent in counselors and others to help.

The Utah Navajo Health System declared an emergency, freeing up resources for programs, services and staffing. Hendy said his organization got the OK to hire someone dedicated to addressing suicide prevention, substance abuse and healthy lifestyles.

Thousands resign from Mormon church over new anti-gay ban on baptisms

Thousands of members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints resigned from the church over the weekend in protest of a new policy that includes a ban on the baptism of children of same-sex couples.

The Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender civil rights organization, responded to the mass resignation by urging the Mormon church to rescind the attack on same-sex couples and their families.

“Thousands of the Mormon faithful standing with the LGBT community sends a powerful message that love will always win,” said Mary Beth Maxwell of HRC. “Turning children away, asking them to disavow their parents, and devaluing the lives of same-sex couples and their families is shocking to people of faith committed to welcoming all God’s children. We hope that church leaders will reconsider this hurtful and deplorable policy.”

The policy characterizes the relationships of Mormons in same-sex couples as “serious transgressions,” calling them apostates of the faith and putting them on par with those who commit murder, rape, sexual abuse, spousal abuse or intentionally cause serious physical harm to others, as well as those who engage in adultery, fornication or abandon their family responsibilities.

The policy also marks the first time a Christian church has enshrined a baptismal ban on children of same-sex couples.

A recent report released by Pew Research shows growing acceptance of the LGBT community by members of the Mormon church. In the new report, 36 percent of Mormons said they agree with the statement, “homosexuality should be accepted by society,” a 12 percent increase from 2007.

The new policy does not mention gender identity; the LDS Church has no official policy regarding gender identity and expression.

Utah reviewing judge’s order removing baby from home of lesbian parents

Utah state child welfare officials are reviewing a ruling by a juvenile court judge who ordered a baby to be taken from lesbian foster parents and instead placed with a heterosexual couple for the child’s well-being.

Judge Scott Johansen’s order earlier this week in the central Utah city of Price raised concerns at the Utah Division of Child and Family Services, agency spokeswoman Ashley Sumner said.

Its attorneys plan to review the decision and determine what options they have to possibly challenge the order.

The ruling came during a routine hearing for April Hoagland and Beckie Peirce. They are part of a group of same-sex married couples who were allowed to become foster parents in Utah after last summer’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling that made gay marriage legal across the country, Sumner said.

Attempts to reach Hoagland and Peirce on Wednesday were unsuccessful, but the couple told KUTV (http://bit.ly/1Sjph1o) that they are distraught after the ruling that calls for the baby girl they have been raising for three months to be taken away within a week.

They said Johansen cited research that children do better when they are raised by heterosexual couples. Hoagland believes the judge actually imposed his religious beliefs.

“We are shattered,” she told the Salt Lake City TV station. “It hurts me really badly because I haven’t done anything wrong.”

Johansen is precluded by judicial rules from discussing pending cases, Utah courts spokeswoman Nancy Volmer said.

A full transcript of his ruling has not been made public and may not be because court records of cases involving foster children are kept private to protect the kids, Sumner said.

Sumner said she can’t speak to specifics of the case but confirmed that the couple’s account of the ruling is accurate – the judge’s decision was based on the couple being lesbians. The agency isn’t aware of any other issues with their performance as foster parents.

The agency is tasked with trying to keep children with one family as long as the parents are providing adequate care.

All couples are screened before becoming foster parents.

“We just want sharing, loving families for these kids,” Sumner said. “We don’t really care what that looks like.”

The ruling triggered a heated response from the Human Rights Campaign. The LGBT rights group called the order shocking, outrageous and unjust.

Utah county bans pet store sales of commercially bred dogs, cats

Utah’s most populous county banned the sale of commercially bred dogs and cats in pet stores, joining a growing number of cities around the country in a step designed to reduce the number of pets born in inhumane conditions.

Some of the nation’s largest pet companies already have moved away from such sales in favor of offering animals from shelters, and a vote this week added Salt Lake County to a list of nearly 90 municipalities that have passed measures targeting so-called puppy and kitten mills. And that number is growing, advocates say. 

“There are great pets that need a home. We don’t need to make more,” said Deann Shepherd, spokeswoman for the Humane Society of Utah. 

But pet stores say the rule, which also includes rabbits, unfairly targets local shops with a good track record on animal welfare. 

“I don’t sell puppy-mill puppies,” Todd Poulsen, owner of Mark’s Ark Pet Store in Taylorsville, said Wednesday. “They want to close down their pet stores just in case we do.”

Pets from puppy and kitten mills are kept in crowded, unsanitary kennels and many don’t have adequate access to veterinary care, food or water, animal advocates say.

A shop called Puppies `N Love in Phoenix sued to challenge a similar ordinance passed in 2013, but a judge upheld it in July. U.S. District Judge David Campbell acknowledged that it will burden the business but said it was not the court’s place to judge the fairness of the city ban. 

The measure in Utah applies to unincorporated areas of Salt Lake County. Though Poulsen’s store is not affected by the ban, he’s worried about it starting a domino effect of similar ordinances.

Leaders in Salt Lake City will likely consider passing a similar measure before early December, City Councilwoman Erin Mendenhall said. 

There are no stores in the city or unincorporated parts of the county that actually sell commercially bred pets _ even though they are two of the biggest population centers in the state, officials said.

Two of the biggest pet retailers in the country, PetSmart and Petco, already have moved to offering shelter dogs. 

Melanie Kahn, senior director of the anti-puppy mill campaign for the Humane Society of the United States, says that customers have heard about poor conditions at some commercial breeders, and they don’t want to risk getting a dog bred in inhumane conditions. 

Kahn says pet store bans are an effective way to combat puppy and kitten mills, but store owners say it’s not fair to claim all dogs or cats for sale are bred in poor conditions. 

A business that violates the ordinance could have its business license revoked, said Arlyn Bradshaw, the Salt Lake County councilman who proposed the rule. People who want a purebred dog or cat animal can still go to licensed breeders. 

Bradhaw said he’s aware of only a few pet stores in northern Utah that sell commercially bred animals. 

The council passed the measure on a 6-1 vote this week. Councilwoman Aimee Winder Newton said she would have preferred educating people about the issue instead. 

Salt Lake City may name street for gay rights leader Harvey Milk

Salt Lake City could soon have a street named after pioneering gay leader Harvey Milk. 

City officials say they have been working with LGBT leaders on the initiative, which would place Harvey Milk Boulevard near thoroughfares named for civil rights icons such as Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks and Cesar Chavez. 

If approved, the name would go on 900 South, about a mile and half from the headquarters of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Temple Square was the site of protests in 2008, after the Mormon church supported efforts to pass a short-lived gay marriage ban in California. 

But Salt Lake City also has supported an active lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community. 

An annual gay pride parade is the second largest in the state — second only to a yearly celebration of Mormon pioneers. When a judge overturned Utah’s gay marriage ban in December 2013, Mayor Ralph Becker presided over unions of same-sex couples who flocked to wed in the hours after the ruling. 

“We’ve had so many tremendous victories this year alone, and I think Harvey really set the tone for the LGBT movement — how to be successful and organize us politically,” said Troy Williams, executive director of Equality Utah. 

Williams said he first sat down with Becker more than a year ago. The idea could come before the City Council before the end of the year, said Councilman Stan Penfold, the first openly gay council member. 

“My hope is that we can send a message as a city that we acknowledge that kind of movement,” Penfold said. They are still working on what part of the street will bear Milk’s name, he said. 

Milk became one of the first openly gay men elected to public office in the U.S. when he won a seat on San Francisco’s board of supervisors in 1977. His uncompromising calls for gays to come out of the closet inspired a generation of activists, but he was assassinated at City Hall along with San Francisco Mayor George Moscone by a disgruntled former city supervisor in 1978. 

The activist’s life was memorialized in the Oscar-winning 2008 movie “Milk,” and he’s also been honored with a commemorative stamp and a posthumous Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama. The San Diego City Council approved naming a street for Milk in 2012, something officials said was a first. 

“Harvey is a true icon for the LGBT community. He set the standard for coalition building and collaborative leadership,” Williams said. “He is our Martin Luther King Jr.”