Salt Lake City recently elected its first lesbian mayor, Jackie Biskupski. The final tally showed her winning the office with 51.5 percent of the vote over incumbent Ralph Becker, who had 48.5 percent of the vote, according to The Salt Lake Tribune. This is the second “first” for Democrat Biskupski: She also was the first LGBT person elected to the Utah legislature, winning a seat in the House of Representatives in 1998. She served seven terms in the House.
Equality Utah executive director Troy Williams called Biskupski’s win “historic.” “Her victory sends a powerful message to all LGBTQ Utahans that their sexual orientation will never be a limitation to public service.”
Of Biskupski’s electoral strategy, the Tribune noted that her “grass-roots campaign focused on change at City Hall and kept its momentum by painting her as the people’s candidate who would listen to constituents.” Biskupski credited her victory to “a diverse group of people from all over the city.”
At first glance, it seems counterintuitive that an openly LBGT politician could get elected mayor in a deeply red state largely influenced by the conservative Mormon Church. Politically, things are not exactly what they seem, however. While Salt Lake City is home to the headquarters of the conservative Mormon Church, its local politics tend to be more progressive, an island of blue in that sea of red.
But not only is Salt Lake City a reliably Democratic city, it also has a reputation for being especially gay-friendly town. A 2006 survey estimated 7.6 percent of the city’s residents were gay. Home to the University of Utah and several major corporations, Salt Lake City has attracted a diverse and tolerant population that has benefitted gay life. As residents have had contact with LBGT individuals in their families or elsewhere in their daily lives, familiarity further has bred tolerance. As a result, more than 35,000 people recently attended the city’s gay pride parade.
Biskupski’s election is important to the area, especially considering the LDS Church’s opposition to same-sex marriage and its conservative view of homosexuality. Just days after the election, LDS officials unveiled a new church policy that declares Mormons in same-sex marriages as apostates of the church (i.e., those who have renounced their belief in the religion) and bars children of same-sex couples from baptism and membership.
Biskupski indicated one of her first orders as mayor will be to meet with LDS Church leaders to discuss the new policy. While she may not change anyone’s mind, her presence could have a tempering effect on LDS Church culture and policies regarding homosexuality in the years to come. If so, that would have an impact far beyond the progressive precinct of Salt Lake City where Biskupski will be serving as mayor.
We wish Jackie Biskupski all the best as she assumes office as the first openly LBGT mayor of Salt Lake City!