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Philanthropist To Be Awarded Honorary Degree Despite Controversial Ties

The University of Utah plans to present an honorary doctorate degree to philanthropist Lynette Gay during Thursday’s commencement ceremony, despite concerns over Gay’s professional links to groups with anti-LGBT stances.

Gay is praised for her humanitarian work and creation of a public health college in Africa that partners with the University of Utah. Dr. Stephen Alder worked alongside her as chief of the Division of Public Health at the university’s school of medicine. He spoke to the U’s Academic Senate on Monday.

“In the time that we have worked with Mrs. Gay and her husband, all  of the work has been University of Utah-mission driven and has not been influenced by these organizations and what I would characterize as discriminatory practices of those organizations,” Alder said.

U President David Pershing said Monday, staff didn’t know about Gay’s connections to World Congress of Families and Family Watch International. But when they found out, they removed references to those connections from the official announcement.  

“I just didn’t think it was a good idea to have those organizations on our website because they’re not consistent with who we are,” Pershing said. “So that’s how that happened for right or for wrong.”

Gay has stepped down from the board of World Congress of Families amid the controversy.

Larry Jacobs is the manager of World Congress of Families.  He said he and other members don’t blame Gay for leaving the organization.

“The people that are hurt are those that are doing great work like Lynette Gay,” Jacobs said. “We just hope that it raises the profile of all those accused of being hateful by the southern poverty law center and the Human Rights Campaign just because they don’t agree with their particular agenda.”

University students are planning a rally during Thursday’s commencement ceremony demanding the withdrawal of Gay’s honorary degree. 

Whittney Evans grew up southern Ohio and has worked in public radio since 2005. She has a communications degree from Morehead State University in Morehead, Kentucky, where she learned the ropes of reporting, producing and hosting. Whittney moved to Utah in 2009 where she became a reporter, producer and morning host at KCPW. Her reporting ranges from the hyper-local issues affecting Salt Lake City residents, to state-wide issues of national interest. Outside of work, she enjoys playing the guitar and getting to know the breathtaking landscape of the Mountain West.
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