27 February 2014

Utah State Senate Testimony Session

Today I attended an after hours "session" of the Utah State Senate. There were about 40 members of the Utah House and Senate present, and more than 300 people present representing the LGBT community and their loved ones. This was the first public conversation between our state's legislators and the Utah LGBT community where they had an opportunity to meet people in our community, and to see us as constituents rather than a charade of smoke and mirrors.
I was asked by Equality Utah to prepare a statement to read at the session. In the end, I wasn't chosen to testify at the meeting, but being there to hear the testimonies of the courageous men and women, as well as the reactions of the legislators, meant the entire world to me. To see the tears from Senator Luz Robles, and Representative Jen Seelig, and to hear the sincere words of love and community from these men and women. 

The highlight of the evening for me, was Lieutenant Governor Spencer Cox. This man had to leave in the middle of the meeting to give a speech at a conference downtown. No one would have thought less of him if he didn't come back... hell, no one could have possibly known if he would have had enough time to come back. But he came back to listen to us. And that has left a lasting impression on me.
At the end of the meeting, I was able to meet Lt. Gov. Cox. He came up to myself and the woman I was speaking to, to introduce himself personally. He had tears in his eyes as he expressed his regret that he had to leave, and miss out on our stories. It was at this moment, that I pulled out my typed testimony from my bag, and I handed it to him. I told him that there was no greater respect he could have shown to us than to come back to the meeting. It proved that the conversation was important enough for him to come back and understand. 

I could not have asked for a more understanding group of men and women to share my experiences with. Because I didn't have the opportunity to testify publicly, I'm publishing my prepared testimony here. People need to hear our stories and our experiences. No one should live in fear in this state. Ever.

My name is Ellen Koester. I’m 24 years old, and I consider myself to be a pretty normal person. I play the piano, ride a motorcycle, and make the world’s best spaghetti and meat sauce. I take my dog for walks, I spend way too much time on Facebook, and I only ski on the best snow on earth. But simply, I’m me! I’m a full time student, a lesbian and, most importantly, I am an active Latter Day Saint.

In 2009, I was a 19 year old freshman attending Southern Utah University in Cedar City, Utah. I was a newly baptized member of the LDS Church, and at semester’s end, I started looking for housing and employment off campus. I soon found that my bishop was a landlord with apartments for rent, and my stake president was looking for another employee for the summer. Both welcomed me with open arms, and I considered myself to be a responsible tenant and a hard working employee.

Ever since I was a little girl, I knew that I was gay, but when I joined the Church, I became hesitant and scared to tell other people. But one day, about a year later, I decided to confide in a roommate about the struggles, and feelings of internal contention I was having. My roommate was less than compassionate, and the next day I received a call from the bishop letting me know that the apartment I had called home would cease to be home in 48 hours. The next day, when I went into work, I was immediately pulled into my supervisor’s office, and told to pack my things.

I was blindsided. I felt betrayed, because I had not violated the contract of my lease, nor had I violated any workplace policies. When I started looking into the legality of what had happened, I was certain that I would find protection in the Civil Rights Act, and in laws passed by the state. But where I found protection for race, color, sex, religion, national origin and disability, I found that protection of sexual orientation was nowhere to be found. I was 20 years old, and I was completely alone.

In the Gospel of John, in chapter 13, verse 34 we read these words, “A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you.” From these words we learn that because we are all children of God, we are to love each other, and see each other as if we were looking through God’s eyes. From the official Church website, mormonsandgays.org, we hear Elder Quentin L. Cook say, “[L]et us be at the forefront in terms of expressing love, compassion, and outreach to those and lets not have families exclude or be disrespectful of those who choose a different lifestyle as a result of their feelings about their own gender. I’m sorry, I feel very strongly about this as you can tell. I think it’s a very important principle.”

Senators, I want to thank you for the time you have spent here today, and for coming together with our community to find love and understanding. It is only by standing together that we will find great opportunity for tomorrow.


  1. What an awesome example of compassion and genuine earnest.

  2. I do hope and pray that beside tears rolling down the senators wasent the only thang that came out of that meeting.I hope and pray to The Great Spirit/God, that Uta,has said yes to Equlite for Every One Not Just A Few.Cristeenna

  3. Ellen I know that this post is old, but it is still very powerful nonetheless. I realized that I was gay only a few months ago (super repressed). People such as you give me strength to move forward to accept myself. I haven't endured the degree of hardship you described. However, stories such as these help me to identify with you. Someday, I hope I can share my story as eloquently - but in the mean time - advocacy. Sincerely, BYU Gay.