"Inalienable rights trumps states rights!" That's the message 22-year-old Justin Anderson held to show his support for LGBT rights during a recent rally in opposition to marriage equality for same-sex couples at the Utah State Capitol. He was likely the only marriage equality supporter there.
Dozens of people led by conservative groups gathered for the rally Sept. 18 in support of "traditional marriage" and decried families headed by same-sex parents as harmful to children.
Anderson stood with his poster among many others under the capitol rotunda, several of whom held their own signs with messages like "marriage means a mother and a father for every child" and "tradition marriage blesses children" and "a states rights issue."
At one point during the rally, activists projected photos of same-sex couples and their children, saying the kids will "pay the price" because of married same-sex couples, The Salt Lake Tribune reported.
"The rally wasn't just an attack on same-sex couples, but on their character," Anderson told BuzzFeed News when reached by phone. "This was not just about opposing same-sex marriage, but it was opposing the character and integrity of the LGBT community."
Some in attendance thought Anderson, who is of Mormon faith and a student at the LDS Business College, was there in support of the rally's message, but many others made insulting remarks to him even before he got up the steps into the building.
"An older couple told me to take my gay agenda and burn in hell," Anderson told BuzzFeed News. "I'm Mormon, and the Mormon community generally opposes marriage equality, so I was told that I was misrepresenting my faith. That was an insult to me because that's not how I understand it."
Anderson said countless rally participants even refused to shake his hand and simply walked away after reading his sign. "That made me feel lower than dirt," he said. "But that was mainly the response from people."
Anderson said he was invited to participate as a volunteer at the rally by the National Organization for Marriage, a group notorious for opposing marriage equality across the country, and had initially planned on going merely as an observer. That changed hours before the event, when he made his sign in hopes of being joined by others who support LGBT rights — but nobody did.
"What sort of inspired me to do this is that I believe opposing same-sex marriage violates peoples' rights," he said. "If I don't stand up for someone's rights, then who am I to ask someone to stand up for me when I need it?"
But Anderson said he's received little support from people in his life for taking such a public stand at the rally.
"I've received more concern from people," he said. "People have been trying to reach out to me with concern, saying they're worried about me and can't understand why I would do this especially because I'm a straight person. I've been warned with people telling me they want to disaccoiate with me because they can't be friends with someone who stands for marriage equality."
Since images of Anderson holding his sign appeared in the news, he said he's lost several friends and colleagues. When asked if he regrets showing his support for the LGBT community, Anderson said, "absolutely not."
"I don't regret anything I've said or anything I've done," he said. "I know I'll be on the right side of history. There are a lot of people in the Utah community who are afraid to stand up and speak out even if they agree because they're afraid of the backlash. I hope other people will be inspired to stand up as well. You should never be ashamed of something you've done when what you've done is right."