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Defining minority: controversy surrounds Salt Lake City's new minority affairs coordinator, Blythe Nobleman, who is not only white but also an out lesbian. (Behind the Headlines).

Hispanic activists and several religious leaders in Salt Lake City are more than a little upset about the mayor's choice for the city's new minority affairs coordinator. In mid April, Mayor Rocky Anderson appointed Blythe Nobleman, a 41-year-old white lesbian, to the position.

Latino leaders in Salt Lake City swiftly denounced the mayor for appointing an Anglo, while members of the Christian right lambasted him for appointing a lesbian. Others criticized the mayor for appointing an Anglo lesbian, suggesting that Anderson, a liberal Democrat, was simply trying to court the growing gay vote in his bid for reelection November 4.

Anderson has defended his appointment, and Nobleman, who left a teaching job at the University of Utah to assume the post, has defended Anderson.

Nobleman's job is twofold: to represent the mayor to minority groups and to help minority groups participate in civic life. The Advocate caught up with her on a Sunday afternoon less than three weeks into her new job.

Critics have said you came out for this position.

Certainly not. I came out when sperm met egg. When the mayor appointed me to this minority affairs position, it was a very courageous move on his part. It was a very bold way to openly acknowledge the GLBT community and the important role GLBT people play in our city. But I've been called derogatory names. I've been referred to as a "nonheterosexual," which seems entirely absurd. That's just silly.

There was the reference to "self-proclaimed lesbian" in The Salt Lake Tribune.

Yes, a "self-proclaimed lesbian." I don't even know what that means.

Did you anticipate the controversy?

I did, but not that it would continue this way.

Was your appointment election-year politicking?

No, that's totally untrue. At this point everything Mayor Anderson does is spun into election strategy. He already had the endorsement of Unity Utah [the state's GLBT political action committee] and the support of the GLBT community at large before he appointed me.

Does your appointment mean the mayor and the city government of Salt Lake City consider gay folks a minority?

Well, the mayor certainly does, and he wanted to provide greater representation for the GLBT community as a minority group.

What does that say about Salt Lake City, which, with its Mormon heritage, has a reputation as being quite conservative?

I think that courageous leaders like Mayor Rocky Anderson are taking the lead to dispel some of the negative myths about homosexuality. There's a big perception about Salt Lake City, and I'm here to tell you that it's changing, thanks to mavericks like Mayor Anderson.

Do you think a white lesbian can adequately represent racial or ethnic minorities in the city?

This shouldn't be a question of one minority community versus another competing for valuable resources. Mayor Anderson appointed me in a process of inclusion to focus on his "strength through diversity" initiative [a pro-minority employment policy]. I can empower other minorities here to voice their concerns and issues, to celebrate their cultures, to heighten the visible richness that minority communities contribute to the diverse populations.

How do you move forward?

I'm taking a very hands-on approach toward getting out in the community. I'm literally beating the streets and making contact with minority community activists and leaders so we can get to know each other face-to-face. I've tried to put my head down, stay focused on the work at hand. And, well, the more they criticize me and demean me, the more determined I am to work harder.
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Author:Neff, Lisa
Publication:The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)
Date:Jun 10, 2003
Previous Article:Across the nation.
Next Article:The benefit of inclusion. (Business).

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