By Kent Larsen
Gilbert Arizona Study Finds 'Religious Separatism,' Racism, Homophobia
GILBERT, ARIZONA -- A diversity task force co-chaired by a stake president
of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has issued its findings,
showing that the town has a problem with racism, homophobia and religious
separatism. The task force spent eight months studying diversity in Gilbert,
and according to the task force's other co-chair, Annette Ward, the town is
sitting on a time bomb.
"We can either deal with it preventatively or put our heads in the sand and
wait for the big explosion." said Ward, who is president of Chandler-Gilbert
Community College. The group will present its findings to the Gilbert Town
Council on Tuesday, and the Council will then vote on creating a permanent
town Human Rights Commission.
The findings show that religious separatism and perceptions about the
dominance of Mormons are among the difficulties the town and a Human Rights
Commission would face. LDS Church members make up 25% of Gilbert's
population, and they are very visible in the town, for the many
similar-looking LDS chapels and seminary buildings (next to most high
schools), if for nothing else.
Stake President John Lewis, who was the task force's co-chair, acknowledged
that the perception of favoritism towards Mormonism is part of the problem.
He says that the task force discovered "that in high schools, groups are
identified as LDS, Catholic and others." To try and bridge the gap between
these groups, Lewis started a youth service program two years ago that
brought together LDS and Catholic youth to work on service projects. "There
needs to be more of those kinds of efforts to promote cooperation and
understanding," he said.
The problem also extends to politics in the town. According to the report a
majority of Gilbert residents believe that a correlation exists between
political and social power in the town and religious affiliation. While no
faith was mentioned, Mormonism is generally considered the dominant faith,
and the town's mayor, Cynthia Dunham, who formed the task force, is Mormon.
As a result, the task force discussed Mormons in leadership roles in the town.
While the report generally doesn't mention specific incidents, it does
mention the often violent actions of the Devil Dogs gang, which was last
year tied to a organized crime scheme led by former New York mobster turned
informant Sammy 'The Bull' Gravano.
Tension rife in Gilbert, diversity panel says
(Phoenix) AZ Republic 11May01 D4
By Edythe Jensen: The Arizona Republic
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