Ries Award: Michael Aaron
Summing up the impact of this year’s prestigious Kristen Ries Award recipient, Michael Aaron, has had on the queer community and Utah in general is difficult. Each year the award is given to recognize the recipient for outstanding service to the queer community, and there’s no doubt that Aaron has provided that service.
But where to start? Should it be with his early activism and involvement in the then-Gay Student Union at the University of Utah? He helped start the Pride week, secured an office for the GSU and helped petition the newspaper to include a lesbian love letter in the student paper.
Or maybe it would be better to talk about his involvement in the 1990s with the Gay and Lesbian Democrats, now known as the Stonewall Democrats. In 1990 he led the group to have 60 gay delegates to the Democratic convention. He asked Pete Suazo to run against anti-gay long-time Democratic Rep. Ted Lewis and helped successfully oust Lewis. He attended the 1987 National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights and 1993 March on Washington for Lesbian, Gay, and Bi Equal Rights and Liberation.
Some might also say his biggest influence has been his impact on alternative media in the state. He is currently the publisher of QSaltLake, Utah’s gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender entertainment and news magazine. He also published the Community Reporter and the Triangle Magazine from 1985 to 1988.
Still, others might argue that his leadership is his biggest contribution. He was involved in leadership from all of the following groups: Salt Lake Men’s Choir, qVinum Wine Club, Utah Male Naturists, Gay and Lesbian Community Council of Utah, Utah Stonewall Center, Royal Court of the Golden Spike Empire and a member of Queer Nation. He’s helped organize rallies, marches and protests and he’s helped lobby legislators for more gay-friendly legislation.
Despite all of these other accomplishments and achievements, his long-time friend, David Nelson nominated him for the award because of the impact he has on everyday life in the queer community. When all is said and done, Aaron has an ability to reach and work with others in a way that is unique, Nelson said.
“I am surprised he is only now being recognized for his longtime work to making a better community,” Nelson said. “Michael has changed the way gay and transgender Utahns do things. His early work influenced the creation of advocacy and social groups from health care and politics to recreation and journalism – groups which didn’t exist in the state before.”
Aaron’s approachable and humble attitude and passion for human rights have been the catalyst for his success in business and especially in journalism, Nelson said.
“The scope of his success in business management and journalism to political and social organization is unmatched among the previous winners,” Nelson said.
Ben Williams, a QSaltLake columnist and a friend of Aaron’s said that through the years and different visions of the gay community in Utah, Aaron has been a stalwart and a key asset to the growth of the community.
“Michael is a man of integrity. When you find someone like that you stick with him. This award is long overdue for Michael. Few people have so consistently dedicated their lives to our community which is the essence of what the Dr. Kristen Ries Award stands for,” Williams said.
Despite all the praise from co-workers, friends and other leaders in the community, Aaron maintains that his passion for equal rights stems from his own desire to be involved; to be a member of the community and make it a better place.
“I have always felt passionate about different causes,” Aaron said. “But it wasn’t until I found a cause that affected me, my life and my friends’ lives that I really found where I belonged.”
Aaron’s involvement has been extensive and he said the progress he’s seen was almost unimaginable when he began his activism in college.
“We used to say we thought full equality was an eventuality, but that we’d never see it in our lifetimes,” Aaron said. “But here we are at the precipice of full marriage equality and other rights that we never even dreamed would happen.”
Aaron is excited for the future. He said he sees the states that don’t recognize gay marriage toppling one by one and the eventual federal equalization.
“There will always be people who don’t like who you are, there’s no avoiding that,” Aaron said. “But I see a time when sexuality can be viewed as an important and interesting part of who you are, but it won’t be the defining characteristic.”
Even after being active in fighting for equal rights for more than two decades, there’s no sign of Aaron slowing down.
“Michael will never stop doing what he does. Like him or not, gay and transgender Utah owes him for almost everything it is today,” Nelson said.
Aaron will be honored along with the other award recipients at the Grand Marshal Reception on June 3.