Marriage Equality USA would not exist were it not for its many local volunteers and affiliates. Colleen and Jolene Mewing are two such local volunteers, serving as the local organizers for the state of Utah.
"We've always referred to our local organizers as our 'Love Warriors on the front lines of marriage' and that, indeed, describes Colleen and Jolene," says Christine Allen, MEUSA IT Director, referring both to the example they set as a couple and to the warm relationships they have forged with allies and adversaries alike.
The two have been at the center of MEUSA activities in Utah the last two years, having attended their first MEUSA event in early 2013. “We attended the MEUSA Valentine’s Day event and admired Jamila and Michelle greatly for what they were doing,” says Jolene. Shortly thereafter, Michelle Hasting (one of the former Utah organizers), received a job offer in Portland. “We want you and Colleen to take our place,” Jamila Hasting-Tharp and Michelle told the couple.
We were already running OWLS (Older, Wiser LesbianSisters) of Utah, so we had a pretty booked schedule,” said Colleen. “We decided we were more passionate about our rights so we left OWLS of Utah and focused on MEUSA.”
We’ve organized and run marriage equality booths at Utah pride and at the Women’s Redrock Music Festival,” says Jolene. “We’ve spoken at several rallies representing MEUSA. We’re pretty well connected with the community.” Colleen says that Salt Lake City Pride is a huge event in Utah. “Pride holds one of the biggest parades in the state. We scanned in more than 50 pages of people that signed up in support of us.” Jolene adds, “We had a woman come up and ask us advice on how to get her wife legal status in the United States. Colleen went to the MEUSA website and found some valuable information for her. This woman was extremely happy with the information we provided. People come up to us with questions and we’re able to help them and point them in the right direction. We’ve made a lot of lasting friendships that way.
The two are actively promoting and involved in the Living Room Conversations project, an effort to garner support for equal marriage rights by mixing small groups of supporters with small groups of opponents or the“moveable middle” -- people who might not feel strongly one way or the other but are willing to listen. MEUSA is connecting Living Room Conversations with its Getting to I Do program, which collects and shares personal stories of journeys to and experiences with marriage equality. “It is important to share stories with each other,” says Colleen “Getting together and talking and allowing people to see who we are opens everybody’s hearts a little more,” adds Jolene. Their next step is to reach out and build bridges with the Mormon community.
Recalling their first such gathering the end of January, Jolene says, “One of the Mormons is actually completely on board with us and never agreed with anything that was spoken about us in church. ‘Everybody deserves to love,’ is his philosophy. Some Mormons are willing to listen, hear and learn. One woman who is a school teacher said that she thinks marriage equality confuses younger students. She thinks it will be hard on them if they are introduced to the concept of women with women and men with men." Jolene told her, “I understand what you’re saying. But imagine what it would have been like for me to attend a class that actually validated I was normal. How much easier my childhood would have been!”
The two also shared their marriage perspective, from a personal standpoint, with the group. “Another thing the woman said was she wasn’t sure she was okay with same gender marriage,” says Colleen. “She got to know us as we shared personal stories. When I proposed, I didn’t ask Jolene to domestic partner me or civil union me—I asked Jolene to marry me. That resonated a lot with the woman. Her way of thinking shifted by the end of the night as she had thought civil unions had all the rights of marriage, but we explained the difference.”
“Colleen and Jolene are the essence of what MEUSA stands for,” says MEUSA Executive Director Brian Silva. “They began as attendees and, through their involvement, chose to serve their community by becoming marriage equality leaders in Salt Lake City. The Salt Lake community and our movement in general are better because of their service!”
If you are in the Salt Lake City, UT area and would like to participate in local Living Room Conversations or to work on bridging the LGBTQ and Mormon communities, please contact Colleen at (801) 391-9144, Jolene at 801-589-7771, or the Salt Lake City Regional Organizing team at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you would like to share your personal marriage equality story, be sure to sign up for our storytelling webinar, Sharing Our Experiences, with the Family Equality Council on February 19th! We'd love to have you participate in our Getting to I Do program.