After battling for gay rights in Utah for nearly five years, the head of Salt Lake City's only GLBT community center is leaving the state to work on public policy in the national arena. Paula Wolfe, executive director of the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender Community Center of Utah, cited the state's increasingly conservative political landscape as another reason for her resignation.
This year's legislative session was "one of the more vicious ones that I've seen," said Wolfe, who will leave the center April 9.
Lawmakers this year not only banned gay marriage but also put that in the form of a constitutional amendment, to be decided by the state's voters in November. The legislature also opposed gay surrogate parenting and defeated hate-crimes legislation. Average Utah voters with more "centered viewpoints" need to get involved in the political process because the legislature is being run by extremists, Wolfe said.
Mike Picardi, chairman of the Stonewall Democrats, said Wolfe will be greatly missed, except by conservative lawmakers on the opposite end of the political spectrum. Gay rights "is challenging work, especially when you're in a community like Utah, where the dominant religion is one of the strongest opponents of human gay rights," said Utah Progressive Network's Lorna Vogt.
About 70% of the state's 2.2 million residents are members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which strongly espouses "traditional" family values. Wolfe said she's "leaving the center in good shape.... I really feel the center is seen as a bridge builder not only within factions in the gay community but between the gay community and nongay community."
Supporters of Wolfe point out that her resignation should not be seen as a defeat for gay rights nor a victory for conservative lawmakers. "This is motivating Paula to direct her efforts on a national level and make an impact on what's going on across the country," said Blythe Nobleman, Salt Lake City's minority affairs communications coordinator.