Children from polygamous communities plan to speak out in defense of their families and their faith in a public rally, breaking the secrecy that normally envelopes their lives.
Organizers expect between 100 and 300 people to attend the “Youth and Family” rally, which will take place Aug. 19 at the Salt Lake City/County Building from 10 a.m. to noon.
The rally is a first for Utah’s polygamous communities, whose families usually shun public attention because of the repercussions it could have for them – an anonymity the children will still cling to by disclosing only their first names at the gathering.
It also is historic “to not only bring the communities together in a united cause, but also to bring the youth together in a united way,” said Mary Batchelor, executive director of the polygamy advocacy group Principle Voices. “They don’t generally mingle.”
Media from around the world have besieged Principle Voices with requests to interview families, Batchelor said, but “because of the current climate, no families are willing to let the media in. Well, this is the next best thing,” she said.
The children participating in the rally represent four different polygamous communities: The Davis County Cooperative Society, the Apostolic United Brethren; Centennial Park; and independent fundamentalist Mormons.
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Sixteen children, ranging in age from 10 to 19, are slated to speak at the rally, though they will not be disclosing which group they belong to. The rally will also feature a youth band and free snow cones.
“I’m your brother and your friend no matter who you are or where you come from and I won’t judge you,” said Christian, 19, in a press release announcing the rally. “Can you say the same about me?”
To date, the public has heard only from teens who have left their communities primarily those from the southern Utah-based Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints or had traumatic experiences, Batchelor said.
“What we’re doing is not to counter that, to say their experience is less valid, but it is to say that isn’t the only experience for our youth,” she said. “This is the portion of our community that doesn’t get to speak. The ones who volunteered very much wanted to speak out about their experiences, hopes and dreams and what life is like for them.”
Organizers attempted to include the FLDS community, based in southern Utah, in the rally but got no response, Batchelor said.
Batchelor said interest in putting on the rally also was triggered by a Utah Supreme Court decision in the Rodney Holm case earlier this year. The high court upheld the state’s criminalization of polygamy. But Chief Justice Christine M. Durham authored a 37-page dissent, saying she would have overturned Holm’s bigamy conviction.
“We felt like it was time people knew this was exactly how we feel,” Batchelor said. “She put into words how we feel and believe.”