Park City activist garners prestigious award
July 20, 2012
Elizabeth Solomon won’t answer to "Liz" or about any other abbreviation of her given name.
"My parents couldn’t agree on a traditional nickname, but they fondly remembered their first meeting as 10-year-olds while playing a board game called beano (a form of bingo)," the Park Meadows resident, a passionate human-rights activist and patron of the arts, explains. "So I’ve been Beano since birth."
It’s a great story, which Solomon admits has blurred over the years.
She answered to Beano when called to the stage to accept an award at the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) annual Utah Gala held last month in Salt Lake City. The outspoken gay-rights activist was honored with the HRC Equality Award for her outstanding work with Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) and the Utah Pride Center, where she serves on the advisory board.
Solomon, who eschews publicity and the limelight, downplays accolades. "I do what I do because it’s the right thing to do. It’s that simple," she says. For example, she knew she was right when she went to war with the state of Utah and won the right to have the personal license plate "GAYSROK" proudly displayed on her car.
Solomon was born and grew up in Williamstown, Massachusetts, in the 1950s and ’60s, an idyllic time when children could ride their bikes across town without fear to go to the 50-cent Saturday matinee movies. "It was a small college town with an indoor swimming pool and a real library," she recalls.
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After graduating from Goucher College in Baltimore, Maryland, she moved to Washington, D.C. She taught fourth grade at an area school until she married. The couple (now separated) has one child, daughter Virginia.
Solomon moved to Park City from Washington, D.C., in 1999, though she’d had a vacation condo here for years before that. "Mostly it was for the climate. The humidity in D.C. is really debilitating," she says. There were other factors. "I already had friends here and I enjoyed all the outdoor activities."
She got involved with PFLAG long before gay-rights issues were really brought home for her. "I was having dinner and planning a PFLAG fundraiser with three gay friends when my daughter, away attending Stanford, called and, in the course of the brief conversation, told me she was gay," Solomon remembers. "She knew I had questions. When she told me her date that night was a ‘her,’ not a ‘him,’ I just sort of glanced right over it, but let her know that I understood what she had just told me. The first things that went through my mind were that I wouldn’t be walking her down the aisle and I might not have grandchildren," admits Solomon.
She notes the irony. "I try to explain to people how hard it is for kids to come out to their parents. My daughter knew she wouldn’t get any flak from me, but it still took her until she was 20 years old to tell me." Virginia is currently working toward her doctorate in art history at the University of Southern California. "Poor kid’s been in school since she was two," quips Solomon.
When asked why the gay-rights struggle is so important to her, she pauses to choose the right words. "It’s just that there’s nothing wrong with being gay! If more people opened up their eyes and realized that perhaps their child’s favorite teacher was gay or their doctor was gay, or there was a gay couple next door, they would see that there’s ultimately nothing different about them. We’re all just people."
Here Solomon gets very emotional: "There’s certainly no reason to kick your own kid out of the house because he or she is gay. Over half of all homeless youth are gay. I have too many gay friends who aren’t welcome at home for Thanksgiving dinner. Feeling that way about your kids comes out of ignorance."
Solomon is currently head of the capital campaign to raise funds for a new gay and lesbian center in Salt Lake City. She vows to keep up the fight.
Among her other passions are education, culture and the Boston Red Sox (she’s planning a trip to Fort Myers, Florida, next spring to watch the Sox in training). She’s a lover of classical music and laments that there isn’t currently any classical music programming available in town. She’s also on the board of Ballet West.
The Eccles Center in Park City is one of her favorite places. "Teri Orr, the director there, and I have had many lively discussions about how to get more people excited and more supportive of the arts in this town."
Solomon also pleads guilty to a penchant for writing letters to the editor. Her passionate, sometimes funny observations about the town and local issues appear in The Park Record on a regular basis.
An obsessive learner, she speaks five languages, most recently Italian. "I’ve made several trips to Italy and the people there are very, very friendly! They put up with you when you struggle with the language and give you a lot of time before they switch to English," she laughs. Solomon says she’s taken a couple of the Italian cooking classes popular among tourists. "One day they made meatloaf and I thought, ‘You’ve got to be kidding, telling an American how to make meatloaf?’"
Steve Phillips is a Park City-based writer and actor. Send your profile comments and suggestions to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Favorite things to do: Go to cultural events, get outdoors and stay active.
Favorite foods: "Italian, of course."
Favorite authors/reading: Any well-written book; mysteries written by lawyers. "I’m fascinated by the law and confess I read Grisham."
Favorite music/performers: Classical
Bucket list: Going to Red Sox spring training in Florida and attending the Rose Bowl Parade in California. She says she’s going to do both next year.