Utah gay advocates asking for community to donate civil rights memorabilia
LGBT • Next year is 45th anniversary of Stonewall uprising.
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Utah gay advocates hope their community will celebrate the 45th anniversary of the Stonewall uprising next year by donating their social-history memorabilia this year.

David Nelson, a political activist since the 1980s, told the crowd of about 35 people Thursday night they needed to help preserve Utah's gay and lesbian social history — before it's too late.

"We're running out of time," Nelson said inside the Utah Pride Center for the "Ask the Elders" series.

He pointed to the University of Utah J. Willard Marriott Library, where there's an archive of gay and lesbian history. The library is expected to soon announce a lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender exhibition.

"The reason we're doing [the LGBT archive]…is we tell the story of Utah and part of that is the gay and lesbian culture that's been here forever," Elizabeth Rogers, a Marriott Library manuscript archivist, said in an interview.

On Thursday, the three panelists included Nelson, Ben Williams and Becky Moss, who all agreed on the most important historical event for gay people: Stonewall.

The Stonewall Inn tavern in New York City's Greenwich Village was the site of several nights of raucous protests after a police raid on June 28, 1969. Stonewall is now regarded as the birth of the modern gay civil rights movement.

Williams, 61, said Salt Lake City has had a large gay and lesbian community since the 1970s, especially after Stonewall.

"In 1969, there were 50 homophile [or gay friendly] groups in the entire U.S.," Williams said. "By 1979, there were 50 just in Utah."

He rattled off the developments in Salt Lake City soon after Stonewall: the Metropolitan Community Church opening in 1972, the first openly gay bar, The Sun, in 1973, and the first community center in 1975, among others.

Williams said he has tried to preserve as much of the gay or queer history as he could, maintaining a Facebook page called the Utah Stonewall Historical Society.

The trio advised the audience to donate their social-history memorabilia, such as photos, diaries and posters, to add depth to the current library's holdings, which now includes the personal papers of leading figures in the Utah gay and lesbian civil-rights movement such as Jay Bell and Johnny Townsend.

Moss, 55, said it's also important to remember how unsafe it was to be out as a lesbian or gay person in Utah.

"It was called 'fag bashing,' " Moss said. "We knew we could be hurt or killed."

She added it's still important for people to come out and reveal their sexual orientation.

"Tell your story," Moss said. "Be who you are."

The Utah Pride Center holds the "Ask the Elders" series, which involves a range of topics and sparks discussion between those who lived it and younger LGBT people. The next event at 6:30 p.m. March 21 is called "What have you done today to make yourself feel proud?"

rparker@sltrib.com

Twitter: @rayutah