"Irrational Optimism" and the Way Forward
Troy Williams, award-winning broadcaster and director of Equality Utah, has been a relentless force for LGBTQ rights in Utah for the past decade. He had a hand in passing the first protections for gay and transgender people in the state of Utah - the only pro-LGBT law passed through a Republican-controlled legislature in the history of the country. On March 6th, Troy visited Encircle to tell his story.
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Human beings are hardwired to connect with one another. “When we deny who we are, we deny our capacity to actually love to the fullest.”
Troy has gone from a more radical activist, a “punk kid with ripped-up jeans" who was arrested for blocking off the governor and senate president’s offices, to a more moderate suit-and-tie lobbyist who meets regularly with leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to further the conversation. Although his methods have changed, he has not lost his drive. He says his experience as a missionary in England translated well into activism:
“The thing about growing up in a religious tradition that's so good is that you have a sense of calling; you have a sense of purpose."
Although we now have marriage equality nationwide, there is still a lot of work to be done. Luckily though, Troy says, “I believe in irrational optimism – it's my ethos.” In October 2016, Equality Utah filed a lawsuit against Utah’s so-called “no promo homo” education law, in which educators were prohibited from “advocating homosexuality.” Troy never expected the law to be overturned without a fight. But on March 8th, two days after his visit to Encircle, SB 196, which struck down the law, passed the Senate 24-1 and the House 68-1.
The most successful strategy Troy has found for effecting change is to focus on where you do agree with different groups, not where you don't, and to expand from there.
It's the most important just to be having those conversations, even when they're hard. When the LDS Church came out in support of the nondiscrimination in employment and housing bill, activists and Church representatives worked together to achieve a common goal. They had an understanding that the rights of religious and LGBTQ people don't have to be in conflict.
In order to continue to move forward, Troy says there are several things we can all do. Don't let up on legislators, continue the momentum of the Women's March and March for Refugees and show up by the thousands, find common ground, and "put our arms around each other and love each other so fiercely."