Milk screenwriter Dustin Lance Black was among the speakers Saturday at a gay rights rally in Salt Lake City, the Deseret News reported.

“I did not come to Salt Lake City to protest. I came here to introduce myself and to share a message of love and respect,” he told over 200 people who gathered at the Capitol. The openly gay screenwriter was raised Mormon.

The rally, organized by Equality Utah, the state's largest gay rights advocate, was the opening volley in the campaign to approve a set of basic rights for LGBT people in Utah. The “common ground” initiative was first unveiled last year, but none of the 5 bills introduced managed to reach the Legislative floor.

Leaders say they have “scaled back” the effort from last year's ambitious push.

“We're going to focus on our municipal efforts,” Brandie Balken, director of Equality Utah, told the paper. “The way we're able to change policy is by getting people on the ground to support those policies. In looking at what happened with our very common sense bills last year, we saw we needed to do more work on the ground.”

Late last year, Salt Lake City approved the state's first measure that bans discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity in the areas of housing and employment. The Mormon Church surprisingly supported the legislation, which was approved unanimously.

Passage of the measure appears to have softened up Utah's most vociferous anti-gay lawmaker. In November, Utah Senator Chris Buttars – who once called gay people “the meanest buggers I have ever seen” – said he would consider sponsoring a similar statewide measure.

“Maybe we ought to have a statewide bill that allows those things,” he told the Salt Lake Tribune. “A person has a right to have a house or a job without worrying about their sexual orientation.”

Adding to the fodder was a November announcement by gay group Log Cabin Republicans saying they had secured two Republican lawmakers to sponsor statewide gay rights measures in the upcoming legislative session.

Buttars, however, has yet to turn into a gay ally. In discussing the possibility of supporting gay rights measures, he told Salt Lake City's Fox affiliate, Fox 13: “I meet with the gays here and there and they were in my house two weeks ago. I don't mind gays, but I don't want them stuffing it in my throat all the time and especially in my kid's face.”