Polygamous families plan rally

Shedding secrecy: They want to share positive feelings about lifestyle

Salt Lake City Tribune/August 10, 2006
By Brooke Adams

For Jessie, it's a chance to show the world that, except for her other mothers and "lots" of siblings, she is a normal kid.

For Christian, it's about standing up to the negativity he has encountered all his life once people learn his father is a polygamist.

The siblings are among hundreds of youths from Utah's polygamous communities expected to participate in a public rally next week aimed at unsealing the secrecy that normally envelopes their lives.

The rally is a first for Utah's polygamous communities, whose families generally shun attention - an anonymity the youth will still cling to by disclosing only their first names at the rally.

Participants will represent four different communities: The Davis County Cooperative Society, the Apostolic United Brethren, Centennial Park and independent fundamentalist Mormons.

Plural families live in fear that public exposure could cause job discrimination, criminal prosecution and, for youth, ridicule from peers and broken friendships. "I don't go yelling it out to everybody and people can't usually tell," said Jessie, 17, who lives in Salt Lake City. "But if they ask, I don't lie about it."

Some "never talk to you again," particularly if they are members of the mainstream Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. "They are not supposed to associate with apostates."

The LDS Church abandoned the practice of plural marriage in 1890 as a condition of statehood and excommunicates fundamentalists who support or practice it.

The rally also is historic in bringing 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."

News media from around the world have clamored 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."

Sixteen children, aged 10 to 19, are slated to speak, though they will not say which community they are from to signal unity between the groups.

"My focus is to show people we're normal kids, we're not brainwashed, we're not crazy, we do normal things and live normal lives," Jessie said. Her mother and her sister wives live in different homes, though they have lived together in the past. Her father comes to their home every couple of weeks or so and the family gets together often, Jessie said.

"When we're all together it's just really, really fun," said Jessie, who has two siblings who also are 17.

Her older brother Christian said the negativity he experienced once schoolmates found out about his family was "pretty heavy" at times. "It made me angry that people could be so close-minded and so unfair."

Christian said those experiences have made him passionate about constitutional rights and freedoms - and left him with a sense of responsibility when it comes to defending his family's lifestyle.

"I experienced a lot of difficult times in my life because people are prejudiced against you when they find out," he said.

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. Principle Voices tried to include the FLDS in the rally but was unsuccessful.

"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. Batchelor said interest in putting on the rally also was triggered by the recent Utah Supreme Court's decision in the Rodney Holm bigamy case. It upheld the state's criminalization of polygamy but Chief Justice Christine M. Durham dissented, saying she would have overturned Holm's conviction.

To see more documents/articles regarding this group/organization/subject click here.