ST. GEORGE – Openly gay presidential candidate Fred Karger returned to St. George on Wednesday to meet with area leaders in the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community and “keep up the pressure” on The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in regards to gay rights.

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Karger, a little-known Republican who has already conceded that Mitt Romney is going to be the GOP nominee, said he is keeping up his campaign in order to promote more dialogue about gay rights. In Utah he has a chance to focus on the LDS Church’s involvement in funding campaigns for measures like California’s Proposition 8, which maintained the state’s ban on gay marriage.

“I want to lean heavily on the LDS Church,” he said, adding that the “stars have aligned” in that he is on the state’s primary ballot running against Romney, a member of the LDS Church.

He also brought national attention to the LGBT issue in Southern Utah through a controversial email exchange with Nanette Billings, the wife of Washington County Republican Party Chairman Willie Billings.

On June 16, after Karger met with Willie Billings for what Karger called a “friendly” conversation over custard, Nanette Billings sent an email calling him “a radical idiot” and writing that she was glad he “cant (sic) procreate.”

She later told Yahoo News in a phone interview that Karger was only running to “find more (sexual) partners.”

Willie Billings said Wednesday he and his wife did not want to comment on the issue.

Nanette Billings has since apologized by email, Karger said, but he added that he hoped the incident helped add to the conversation about the feelings toward LGBT people in Utah.

“It’s a very difficult subject to address, but again, the more we get it out there, the more we’ll be able to address it,” he said.

Karger said he has heard the “horror stories” of gay LDS Church members being turned away from their faith and their families, and he feels a personal connection because of his long reluctance to be open about his sexuality – he came out when he was 41.

Karger has produced a campaign commercial slated to run in Utah before Tuesday’s primary election calling for a stop to the “hate.”

Karger, who helped produce a documentary on the LDS Church’s involvement in funding a campaign for California’s Proposition 8, has been requesting a meeting with LDS Church President Thomas Monson to discuss the issue, but has been turned away, Karger said.

No wonder, said Jim Dabakis, Utah Democratic Party Chairman, who argued that Karger’s campaign has been a “blatantly self-serving” sideshow.

Karger has drawn criticism from LGBT groups in the state for his comments, which they say are out of touch with current relations between church leaders and the LGBT community.

For Karger to come in from outside the state, make allegations and demand to speak to Monson is insulting, Dabakis said.

“I think Fred Karger is a disgrace to the Republican Party,” he said. “I wish he’d go back to California because that kind of incivility is not the way we do things in Utah.”

But Linda Stay, the local representative for Equality Utah, said that Karger’s race and the incident with Nanette Billings has helped alert people to the fact that discrimination is alive and well in Southern Utah.

“Now we have something that’s visible, that’s out there that we can talk about with our leaders and our employers and our neighbors,” she said.

Claudia Bradshaw, founder of the Southern Utah chapter of Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, said she feels exposure is an important part of raising awareness and eventually securing equal treatment for LGBT individuals.

For a Republican presidential candidate to be openly gay and campaigning in Southern Utah is a significant thing, she said.

“America should be for equal rights,” she said. “It shouldn’t matter if you’re a Democrat or a Republican.”