Ex-North Ogden council hopeful draws fire from gay rights group
NORTH OGDEN — A former North Ogden City Council candidate, who came under fire during his campaign over ties to the #DezNat movement, is now generating backlash from a statewide LGBTQ advocacy group for a tweet taking aim at the gay pride flag.
Gregory Smith is in hot water again for a tweeted response on Monday to a Facebook message posted by Natalie Cline, the controversial member of the Utah State Board of Education. Smith was eliminated from contention in the North Ogden City Council race after the Aug. 10 primary but, at least through Monday, had apparently kept active on social media.
“Reckless rhetoric often precedes acts of violence,” Equality Utah Executive Director Troy Williams said in a message posted to Twitter on Tuesday, responding to Smith.
Smith, for his part, said he’s swearing off social media after the flap that resulted from the controversy. He also expressed embarrassment over the turn of events and said he in no way is calling for violence against the gay community. “I’m off Twitter. I’m an idiot,” he said Tuesday.
Cline had posted, in part, “Time to make some phone calls,” in response to a message from the Layton High School seminary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints inviting participation from the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex and asexual community, or LGBTQIA+. Cline’s post, copied by Equality Utah, was a response to a photo of a pride flag with the message, “If you are LGBTQIA+/Welcome to seminary!” The photo contained the Layton High School seal.
Smith, for his part, tweeted Cline’s post with his own message, “Time to get out our muskets.” Use of the word “muskets,” Smith said, was a reference to a speech Monday by Elder Jeffrey Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of the LDS church. Holland, Smith said, had referred to use of muskets as a metaphor for the faithful to stand up and defend the LDS church.
At any rate, the Equality Utah message from Williams said group reps “are deeply disturbed” over the social media posts by Cline and Smith. The Equality Utah message said Holland’s reference to muskets was a metaphor for “defending marriage as the union of a man and a woman.”
Equality Utah responds to Elder Holland’s call for “musket-fire” pic.twitter.com/ZcWqJjuuk9
— Equality Utah (@EqualityUtah) August 24, 2021
Williams went on, noting violence members of the LGBTQ community have historically faced and the role language can have in spurring such action. “Words matter. Especially when they come from leaders,” his message said.
Smith said he’s not calling for violence against gay people. Moreover, he doesn’t think they should be excluded from seminary activities. “Of course all gay people are welcome in seminary. I don’t have a problem with that,” he said.
His issue, he said, is with the gay pride flag itself, featured in the Layton High School seminary message. “I don’t care, but I don’t think the pride flag belongs in an LDS church building. That’s it,” he said.
Cline said the Facebook post that spurred Smith’s tweet had been posted privately. She was a Facebook friend with Smith, she said, and spoke with him for the first time earlier Tuesday, after the controversy erupted.
“It was very clear to me he was not calling for violence,” Cline said. “He just didn’t think it through.”
Like Smith, Cline said Holland’s reference to use of muskets is a call to peacefully defend the church. At the same time, she added, her own Facebook post in response to the Layton High School seminary message to the LGBTQIA community was not meant as call to exclude the group from church activities.
“We need to be welcoming to all students,” Cline said. However, giving a welcome tailored specifically to one group, the LGBTQIA+ community in the case of the Layton High School seminary message, has the effect of excluding others, she said.
Even so, the Equality Utah statement took particular aim at Cline, who’s from Bluffdale.
“Natalie Cline’s ongoing obsession with LGBTQ youth is equally disturbing. She has been leading a one-woman crusade against our community ever since she was elected to the Utah State Board of Education. Her dangerous rhetoric continues to incite hysteria and moral panic among Utah parents,” said the message.
The issue garnered the attention of the Utah State Board of Education itself after receiving word of “public concern” on the matter.
“We are reviewing this post for potential Board Bylaw violations,” read a statement signed by the “Utah State Board of Education Leadership.” That said, one board member’s comments, the statement went on, should not be interpreted as the position of the entire board.
The seminary operates independent of Layton High School and an LDS church rep couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.
Smith’s bid for a North Ogden City Council seat had sparked a furor among some because of his affiliation with the loosely defined #DezNat movement. Smith says the movement is focused on defending the LDS church. Its critics, meantime, equate the group with white nationalism, homophobia and more given the backgrounds of some who use the hashtag.
Smith finished fifth among seven in primary balloting in the City Council race, out of contention.