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Utah's First Openly Gay Mayor-Elect Hopes To Build Bridges With LDS Church

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UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Ladies and gentlemen, Mayor-elect Jackie Biskupski.

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KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

Salt Lake City has just elected its first openly gay mayor. Her name is Jackie Biskupski, and we met her at the celebration last week at the Utah Pride Center.

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JACKIE BISKUPSKI: And we will effect change, and we will experience a cultural shift that we have been needing for a very long time. And that is one that includes everybody and treats everyone equally.

MCEVERS: Utah is a red state. Its capital, though, is blue, with an active LGBT community. The Advocate called it the gayest city in America for a few years back. This is not the first time Biskupski has made history in Utah. She was the first openly gay state representative to be elected in the late '90s. Still, says Neil Webster, a long-time family friend, this election in a city that's the headquarters of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or LDS, was a big deal.

NEIL WEBSTER: While Salt Lake is a fairly liberal area, the rest of Utah is not. And I mean, I think there's something to be said for the fact that a out lesbian, single mother is now going to preside over a city hall that is about two miles from the LDS temple. And there's a lot of symbolism to that.

MCEVERS: Two days after Biskupski was elected mayor, LDS church leaders issued a policy on same-sex relationships, saying Mormons in same-sex marriages must be disciplined and their children can't be baptized until they are 18. Biskupski is not a member of the church. But when I talked to her in Salt Lake City, the new policy was on her mind.

Mayor-elect Jackie Biskupski, thank you for being with us.

BISKUPSKI: Thank you.

MCEVERS: News of your election is not only making headlines here in Utah, but it's also making headlines all over the country and, in fact, all over the world. I mean, what do you think about that? Do you think it's being overplayed?

BISKUPSKI: Well, I think what you're seeing is that people feel like there is, you know, a struggle in Utah between the LDS Church and the LGBT community, right? But we have gained so much ground here. And this past year, we passed a statewide nondiscrimination policy that the LDS Church and the LGBT community helped craft. And now, with my election, people are surprised, you know, that something significant like becoming the mayor of the capital city where the home of the LDS Church is located can happen. And that means something to everybody in the world. Like, this is big.

MCEVERS: You mentioned, you know, this is an opportunity to build bridges between the LDS Church and the LGBT community. In light of the recent guidelines issued by the church...

BISKUPSKI: Yeah.

MCEVERS: ...Stating that children of same-sex couples cannot be baptized in the church, I mean, you've actually said that won't last long. Why won't that last long?

BISKUPSKI: Because I believe love will bear out over fear. And I really believe that that policy comes from a place of fear. Now, I haven't met with them to talk to them about that, but it is a discussion I would like to have.

MCEVERS: Do you have plans to have that discussion? Is there...

BISKUPSKI: Yes. So I've asked to meet with the LDS Church, and I will be meeting with them. I've been meeting with him throughout this campaign. And in that discussion, there'll be a number of topics that we'll talk about - you know, the economy and the homeless and then the policy. We'll talk about that policy.

MCEVERS: And what are you going to say?

BISKUPSKI: You know, I don't really know because I always speak from my heart when I get into a room and have a discussion like that. But the conversation needs to happen.

MCEVERS: We've heard from people that - you know, now that you've been elected, you know, there are a lot of young, lesbian, gay, bi, trans people out there who are going to look up to you. Is that a lot of responsibility to bear?

BISKUPSKI: You know, I've been doing it for so long. You know, when I ran in '98, it was not popular to be gay. It was a very difficult battle even back then. And I hope that my leadership does inspire, that people who have been marginalized feel like anything is possible and that they pursue their dreams and their goals as hard as I have because it does effect change.

MCEVERS: Do you think people are going to look back at this moment and say, that was a moment; that was a moment in the sort of movement for LGBT rights in this country?

BISKUPSKI: You know, I hope it is. We speak over a hundred languages in this city, and yet, it doesn't feel like that. And we simply are not embracing how diverse we really are, and we're not celebrating that. And that is a goal of mine.

MCEVERS: Mayor-elect Jackie Biskupski of Salt Lake City, thank you very much.

BISKUPSKI: You're welcome. Thank you.

MCEVERS: In a statement to NPR, a spokesman for the LDS Church said, quote, "We look forward to working closely with Mayor Biskupski and her administration going forward." Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.