Saturday, September 20, 2014

Troy Williams: A balanced activist

By: Mallory Jesperson

SALT LAKE CITY—Growing up a closeted Mormon from Eugene, Oregon, serving a Mormon mission in Great Britain, and eventually being dubbed the “Gay Mayor of Salt Lake City.” It is safe to say that Troy Williams’ life journey has been anything but ordinary, but also nothing short of impressive.

Williams was an integral part during this year’s session of the Legislature here in Utah, helping move forward the narrative for members of the LGBT community. SB100, a bill that would have included sexual orientation and gender identity among the list of ways Utahns would be unable to discriminate against in housing and employment practices, never made it to the committee room floor to be heard among legislators. But, this doesn’t mean that Williams didn’t fight till the very end. He was even arrested for his efforts in furthering the bill.

 Everyone should get arrested once in their life for something they believe in,” Williams said.

The most interesting aspect about Williams though, is his unique perspective. He has been on both sides of the spectrum. He has lived a Mormon lifestyle, but understood soon after his mission that he had what he calls, “this lurking weirdness” inside of him. He attributes much of who he is to the church and accepts that he would not be who he is today if it were not for the influence of the church’s presence in his life.

 “Without Mormonism, I wouldn’t exist,” said Williams.

He even contributes his inborn activist ethos back to his religious past.

“You really are cultivated with this sense that you have a responsibility to make the world better, to preach the gospel, to be a missionary, to proselyte your ideas. I think those elements are still deeply internalized within me,” Williams said

This is one of the reasons why Sen. Jim Dabakis, D-Salt Lake City, an openly gay Senator who has worked alongside Williams for about 10 years, believes that Williams is so effective.

“Troy has an interesting position because he has a platform on the radio, because he's so passionate, but he also has a common sense streak in him that some activists don't have. He knows when to compromise and when to stay firm, that's a hard thing for a lot of activists to be able to draw that line,” Dabakis said.

Williams not only works to promote gay rights, but has also been able to accomplish a great deal in his life so far. He graduated from the University of Utah with two degrees, one in film studies, and the other in anthropology. After graduating college he began volunteer work for the only radio station in Utah, at the time, that was challenging the narrative regarding the war, KRCL 90.9 FM. Troy was only a volunteer a few short months before he was asked to produce the radio’s show, RadioActive. William still currently works for KRCL and even recently celebrated his 10-year anniversary with the radio station.

Williams’ influence doesn’t stop at radio, but has moved to other media spectrums. He was sought out to produce television shows with Mormon themed content. The result of his pitch of various ideas led to the TLC show, Breaking The Faith, and he is currently working on a few more projects with the company as well that will be released in the near future.

“I just like platforms for telling people stories. Ultimately the issue is how do we build empathy for people who are marginalized, who are different from us and different from the mainstream? That's what's been important to me,” Williams said.

His desire to be a voice for the voiceless derives from his closeted Mormon lifestyle while in his hometown of Eugene, Oregon. Williams endured teasing and torment for his religious beliefs while growing up in Oregon, but he recognizes that it helped build his overwhelming sense of compassion for others who experience persecution.

He has worked directly with Equality Utah, a non-profit organization whose sole efforts are to create a fair and just environment for all LGBT Utahn’s and their families.

“I have always respected Troy for his incredible passion and dedication to uplifting the marginalized, regardless of the reason for marginalization. He is not a single issue person, and he has done an extraordinary job of engaging other people to understand the importance of working across issues and across "groups" to build a better world for us all,” Brandie Balken, executive director of Equality Utah, said.

This has become Williams’ greater purpose. He is adamant that he is fighting for empathy and understanding. His Mormon roots have helped create him and he understands why many in the Mormon community fear that his efforts are in order to change “God’s Law,” but he assures that he has no interest in rewriting the Mormon religion.

“What the gay community wants is equal protection under civil law, and that’s it,” Williams said.

This understanding of the hesitations displayed by religious leaders and members of the community is why Dabakis says it has made him such a balanced community leader.

No matter how far Troy Williams ventures, he always comes back to Mormonism, but his desire to make Utah a better place for LGBT members along with their family members supersedes everything.

“Troy's engagement stems from his profound commitment to bettering our community, as well as his deep understanding that when one group is excluded, harm extends well beyond that group in and of its self. That harm is felt by families, neighborhoods, communities, and our collective sense of who we are, and how we behave,” Balken said.

Troy Williams has accomplished a great deal in a short time, and plans to continue to make the world fair and just for all who feel marginalized or feel as though they are second-class citizens.

“What I want BYU students to understand is that the only thing LGBT people are asking for is equal protection under the law, the right of due process, and equal access to public accommodations. Those 3 things. And this is the thing; we want you, Mormons, to enjoy those same rights as well. That's how we end the culture war. That we have full equality for all people, that's it. That includes Mormons, and gay people, everything,” Williams said.

1 comment:

  1. So well written and informing. I am so proud of you Ms. J for pursuing exactly what you are meant to be doing. You are excelling and it is a beautiful thing to watch! Love you, Erin