Marian +
Derek

Lesbian New York Activist
Utah Latter-day Saint Advocate
This is a “relationship blessed by differences.”

In recent years, gay rights and religious liberty have been pitted together in what has felt, to many, like an inescapable, zero-sum fight.  But does it have to be?  Is there any other way?

Derek and Marian think so.  More than simply a shared belief, these two have experienced it for themselves for many years – being intimately involved in paving another way as they helped to forge a compromise legislative effort in Utah satisfying both the gay community and religious conservatives.

Sounds crazy? Then you better hear these two for yourself.

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Meet Rev. Marian Edmonds-Allen

Queer, Activist, Advocate, Dreamer, Patriot, New Yorker, Religious but not rigid, A liberal who has voted for Reagan twice, Passionate about helping LGBT youth, Bob Ross Painter (not a good one)

Derek on Marian. Marian is a person dedicated to improving problems that cause unnecessary human suffering and strife. She wants action, not just words, and jumps into what she’s doing with both feet. What’s more, she tackles a problem in a way that makes you want to join her in the cause, and I suppose that’s a big reason why I’m here now writing this about her.

Meet Derek Monson

Family-oriented, Member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Nerdy, Entrepreneurial, Conservative, Driven, Hard working, Reader, Introvert, Analytical

Marian on Derek: Derek is anything but a typical Latter-day Saint dad out buying groceries with his kids. Yes, he may be seen on weekends in his BYU cap, but don’t let that fool you! He is also passionately interested in the world and people around him and committed to making the world a better place. That’s not what (some) people would think, so you better run into him at Harmon’s for yourself.

More Description of the Treasonous Friendship:

Marian has spent a lifetime ministering to others, including in her leadership at LGBTQ organizations such as the Utah Pride Center, OUTreach Resource Centers, and currently, Parity, a Manhattan-based organization that works at the intersection of LGBTQ, religion and faith. Marian has a wife and four children, and since 2011, has worked as an ordained minister, spearheading efforts to help improve acceptance for LGBT youth and to help prevent homelessness and suicide. That includes having worked previously as a National Program Director for the Family Acceptance Project at San Francisco State University. In her spare time she works towards completing a Doctor of Ministry degree at Eden Seminary in St Louis, with a thesis entitled, “Building relationships blessed by difference.”

Derek, by contrast, has been a leader in one of Utah’s most conservative advocacy organizations, the Sutherland Institute – overseeing Sutherland’s strategic policy and legislative initiatives. He has influenced a variety of public policy issues in Utah, including economic development and regulation, tax and budget, government transparency, public education, religious freedom, Medicaid reform, alcohol regulation and immigration. He has provided expert policy analysis and commentary for the LA Times, The Washington Examiner, The Associated Press, The Federalist, KSL/Deseret News, ABC4 Utah, Fox 13 Utah, The Salt Lake Tribune and the Utah State Legislature.

A mutual friend set up a meeting for Marian and Derek to discuss ways they might work together, and that’s where it began. Marian was trying everything she could think of to reduce LGBT youth suicide and homelessness, and was struggling to make any progress.  She started cold calling people, and she got two call backs: one from LDS Church leadership (that’s another story) and Derek. Marian continues, “I was nervous, going to the corner of Church and State to Sutherland’s fancy offices [it’s a conservative organization] to meet Derek – who from his photo looked terrifyingly intimidating. But the staff was friendly to me (maybe I was good at passing that day – my wife says I can pass for a Relief Society member [the Latter-day Saint women’s organization]).”

Derek continues, “I was immediately drawn to Marian’s openness to honest discussion about issues, even when it meant being critical of groups or ideas that we might otherwise agree with. That kind of open-minded and honest appraisal of life and the issues we face, and the refusal to simply fit into the ideological or political boxes that everyone seems to want to force others into, let me know that we could have a close and constructive relationship, despite any disagreements.”

Marian agrees, “Derek and I hit it off, and we continued to meet and talk every few months and then got down to the business of helping people in surprising ways, behind the scenes with legislation. We’ve been friends ever since.” [They worked together to navigate a “No Promo Homo” policy, along with LGBT youth homelessness].

“What has maintained that relationship” Derek adds, “is a genuine interest in the other’s well-being and happiness, combined with an interest in speaking out together to show people that there’s a better way to both agree and disagree in public discourse.”

As part of their work together, Derek and Marian have co-authored a series of op-eds on decisive issues (like Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission). You can check them out here:

Science can change dialogue on LGBT rights and religious freedomHuffPost guest blog

LGBT rights are not incompatible with religious liberty unless we make them soWashington Examiner

The right way to handle politics: Justice Kennedy and the Masterpiece Cakeshop caseThe Hill

Masterpiece Cakeshop decision reveals a better wayDeseret News

Derek admits, “We both have crazy ideas from time to time that the other one has to put the brakes on, but even in doing that we build trust in one another and help each other work through what possibilities may exist to make a difference and have an impact.” And Marian adds, “When I puzzle over a conservative position, I either ask Derek what he thinks, or I imagine, ‘What would Derek say?’ He’s a good guy, even with the Y hat on. We always end up talking for hours and are late for our next meetings.”

Their Talk: “Inclusive freedom: Protecting Religious Liberty and LGBT Rights

– or –

Agreeing with your adversary: Bridging the unnecessary divide between religious liberty and LGBTQ equality.”

Their talk focuses on finding bridges and consensus solutions that protect the rights of religious individuals and promote LGBTQ equality – along with helping people understand how to dialogue about and disagree on controversial political or policy topics, without dehumanizing or de-legitimizing the other person….In other words, how to talk productively about things no one wants to discuss (religion and politics!)

But do these conversations change anything?  You bet!  Central to this message will be the way they have seen conversations lead to collaborations and legislative impact.

LGBT rights and religious liberty has most of the country at a stand still, but not in Utah.  Utah has a history of finding ways to respect people with different ideas and beliefs, something many people from other parts of the country find unbelievable.  As they describe it, “One of our most powerful joint themes is finding ways to compromise that honors each ‘side’ of an issue and actually provides progress toward each side’s goal. We can talk about and share examples of when we have worked together to reduce the number of LGBT children and teens who die by suicide each year, and who are kicked out by parents and sleep in snow banks.  We can talk about how we have brought some surprising characters to sit together and talk together about issues that keep them awake at night, and how those conversations results in real changes to heart and minds – even legislation and public school policies.”

They add, “We also are good at modeling how to have respectful conversations that progress towards collaboration and progress.” In fact they can’t think of one issue that is too hot to consider, or any issue that people applying this approach couldn’t brainstorm a solution to! Derek and Marian have brainstormed expanding their dialogue to also touch on gun rights and abortion, but have yet to take on those issues in a meaningful way. But it’s something they’re both open to.

The time-space continuum to consider: Marian is in New York City.  Derek is in Salt Lake City.

What the pair would need to come to your school: Travel and hotel and an honorarium of between $500 and 1000 – although Marian mentioned they’re okay with a sliding scale, emphasizing that “money is NOT an object but money is also helpful!”

Contact them.

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Rev. Marian Edmonds-Allen
Executive Director, Parity
Derek Monson, Vice President/Policy
The Sutherland Institute