Pro or Con? No Gay Rights Bills In Utah This Year

UT – Speculation is flying fast and thick in Utah’s LGBT community right now. Is the agreement by our Legislators to not run any gay-rights bills this year in return for no anti-gay bills and an independent commission a good thing? Or are they just backing down from the fight?

State Representative Christine Johnson

Last week, State Representative Christine Johnson and Senator Ben McAdams announced that they had reached a compromise with the conservatives on the hill like Senator Howard Stephenson. In return for our community not running any gay-rights bills this year, the anti-human right’ers would not run any of their proposed 5 bills which would make it illegal for cities or municipalities in Utah to provide any of their own protections – forcing everything to go through Capital Hill. According to Equality Utah, the 5 bills from the conservative side would have (among other things) stripped away any chance of housing and workplace protections state-wide, including a reversal of Salt Lake City and County’s newly granted protections. Also included in the compromise is the use of an interim committee over the next year, which has been charged with evaluating the need for such protections in the state. Next year, during the 2011 legislative session, the committee will make a recommendation to the lawmakers on whether or not these protections are needed, based off of their findings.

But now some in the local LGBT community are speaking out against the compromise, saying that pro-LGBT lawmakers are failing in their duties to fight for their constituents rights. Local resident and gay-rights supporter Jodene Rudolf is not in favor of the compromise, saying “I cannot help but think of it as a slap in the face of what is right and just. The good fight should continue and we should just fight harder..Yes, it is tiring to face defeat time after time. But if we retreat from the battlefield won’t the other side advance its objective again and again anyway?”

But Equality Utah and Rep Johnson say this compromise provides an enormous open-door for the queer community. “This [compromise] gives us a big opportunity this year” says Brandie Balken, Executive Director of Equality Utah. “We have a whole year to do outreach and help educate both our lawmakers as well as our fellow citizens.”

But what about those of us in the community who are not part of an official advocacy group like Equality Utah? Where does this leave us? Well according to Rep

Equality Utah Exec. Director Brandie Balken

Johnson, our efforts are key to the success of this deal. “We need our community to step up to the plate this year,” she says, and it’s true. The community is needed to speak up at public hearings, committee meetings and most importantly to their straight neighbors and co-workers. This compromise has the possibility of being the greatest thing to ever happen to the queer community in Utah. We have one whole pressure-free year to tell our stories, to help our neighbors and elected officials understand what we go through on a daily basis. We can talk politics or religion all day long, but the most important and effective thing we could ever do is put a face to who we are. The LGBT community suffers horrors that very few other communities have ever even imagined, and if history has taught us anything it’s that once people see us and understand what we go through, that’s when we gain our greatest allies and the writing on the wall starts to get a little revision.

As Reed Cowan will tell you, “Every life has a story, every story has a lesson and every lesson has the power to change the world.” I pledge to do all I can this next year, I hope you join me.

UPDATE:
A word from State Representative Christine Johnson:


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19 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Jamie McGonnigal on February 1, 2010 at 12:49 pm

    It’s actually really interesting. On the one hand, trying new things is always good – Lord knows what we’ve been doing hasn’t been working state-by-state. So I encourage the opportunity to actually do work on these issues in committee.

    However – and this is where I’m really reluctant – we have had so many strides forward in the last 16 months or so BECAUSE the bills are being brought up, BECAUSE people are being called out for their hypocrisy and their bigotry. I feel like that’s not going to happen in a quiet little committee room. We’re in the news everyday because there is something happening politically – for the past decade we haven’t been in the news because nothing was happening – we weren’t making these things happen. And finally, the reason so many people are talking about equality now, is because it IS in the news. We can quietly go to our neighbors, family and friends all we want and talk about who we are, but I really don’t think that requires a work stoppage of legislations protecting us. In fact, legislation would only give us the SOMETHING we need to talk about on a regular basis with these people who may not know who we are.

    So there it is…it’s nice that people are trying to come up with new tactics, but this one smells a little bit like legislators are dragging their heels to make it a non-issue.

    Reply

    • Posted by Gail Turpin on February 1, 2010 at 1:34 pm

      I would like to know who will serve on this committee. Will it be balanced somehow since the legislature itself is primarily Mormon men? Is there a timeline for this to be completed? Who gets input? And the most important issue for me is what if “they” decide there is not enough discrimination to warrant “special protections” for the LGBT community? Then what happens? Does the legislature decide to pre-empt the city and county ordinances? I am worried.

      Reply

      • Posted by Gail Turpin on February 1, 2010 at 1:36 pm

        And, by the way, many people have been stepping up to the plate for a very long time!

      • Posted by ethingtoneric on February 1, 2010 at 1:40 pm

        Gail;
        The committee is yet to be determined, but this (as I understand it) won’t be creating a new committee, but rather using an existing one. This will be assigned to one of the Legislatures’ interim committees, who will be hearing testimony all year long from places like the workplace committee and the state Human Rights Commission (who were key in making sure the SLC non-discrimination ordinances were passed). It’s a gamble, if they come back and say nothing is needed than… well let’s not go there. They’ll also be hearing testimony from citizens, so people like you will get to have their say.

        People like you do amazing things for the community Gail, keep up the good work!

  2. Posted by Martha Amundsen on February 1, 2010 at 2:05 pm

    Justice delayed is justice denied. It is time to stop asking for equality and to start demanding it. What is the compromise? I agree to allow you to discriminate against me and you agree to have the right to do so?

    Let the anti-gay bigots be seen for what they are. The pro-equality legislators need to call the bluff of those who promote discrimination. If legislation is passed banning non-discrimination ordinances statewide, then those legislators in support of that discrimination will be exposed. Maybe it’s time for litigation to pick up where legislation has failed. Besides, what do we have to lose? There are only two ordinances that I am aware of; the Salt Lake City and Salt Lake County non-discrimination ordinances. It is not the case that there are hundreds of municipalities in Utah that have non-discrimination ordinances that are in jeopardy. Furthermore, even if that was the case, so what? Let the anti-gay legislators make their true feelings be known and drawn into the spotlight.

    When the Salt Lake City non-discrimination ordinance was passed I had very mixed emotions. I certainly was glad that it was a step in the right direction however, I was bothered that members of the LGBT community were thanking the Mormon Church for their disingenuous support which included the caveat; so long as it doesn’t do any violence to marriage. While I believe that if you win over hearts you also win over minds, nevertheless we need to keep a clear focus on the goal, equal protection for all, not begrudging tolerance by any church hierarchy. The last time I checked, according to the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment of the Constitution, my civil rights should not and do not depend on any church’s approval.

    Do we really need a study to say that discrimination based on sexual orientation is alive and well? Was the evidence in the Federal Prop 8 trial, some of which came from Utah, not enough? The best evidence that discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity is alive and well is when our pro-equality legislators call the bluff of the anti-gay legislators and the state legislature passes a bill banning non-discrimination ordinances.

    How is this study going to accurately gather evidence when there is no due process for the aggrieved? Since there are no protections on a state or federal level for discrimination based on sexual orientation, individuals don’t tend to report it. I understand the study will gather data, some of which will be from the Utah State Labor Commission. The Labor Commission does not accept cases based on sexual orientation or gender identity because they do not have the authority to do so as there is no state or federal law prohibiting such discrimination.

    Furthermore, as an employment attorney, I can attest to the fact that not only does employment discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity go mostly unreported because there is no process to do so and no remedy to be had (now with the small recent exception of Salt Lake City and Salt Lake County), non-disclosure of discrimination or any other wrongdoing in an employment setting is almost always a condition of any severance offered by the employer. So, there is no one to complain to much less any damages to be reimbursed for and, additionally, you may receive a financial incentive if you agree not disclose the discrimination.

    Unless the two sides of this compromise have also committed to take specific actions based on the study’s outcome, then I only view this as a stall tactic for the anti-gay legislators to hide for another year. Finally, even if a bill banning non-discrimination ordinances passed, some of this may be undone not only with litigation, but legislation on a federal level, such as ENDA (Employment Non-Discrimination Act).

    This is not the time to call a truce. I expect compromises on issues such as highway funding, taxation, etc. I do not accept any compromises on non-discrimination legislation. Without civil rights including equal protection for all, everything else is irrelevant. The choice has been made to roll over rather than to go down swinging. There are some issues that cannot be compromised and civil rights are one of those issues.

    Reply

    • Posted by Reb Huggins on February 1, 2010 at 9:17 pm

      Martha, I read an article in USA Today highlighting Black History month, and couldn’t help equate the sentiments of the participants of that Civil Rights movements with what many of the Utah LGBT community and their allies are feeling today: ‘if not now, when? if not me, who?’

      My dear gay brother died waiting for equality, died at his own hands while the social climate in Utah failed to provide a safe mental haven for him. I worked hard at his side to fight Amendment 3, to no avail. I am tired of worrying about other LGBT citizens feeling his dark sorrows, of worrying about other Utah families getting that dreaded phone call…

      You have precisely verbalized my feelings about the ‘handout’ given with the passage of the SLC & County anti-discrimination ordinances…gee, thanks, Mormons. Didn’t mean to cause you any concern about ‘violence to marriage’ by seeking equal protection under the law.

      I am ready to fight.

      Reply

  3. Posted by Nan on February 1, 2010 at 2:14 pm

    This is a no-brainer. WE lose nothing with this plan. I like it an it’s smart. It’s also diplomatic. We have to be patient with the process of civil rights. If you actually think we were going to get pro-gay bills passed in the legislature you’re nuts!!

    Reply

  4. Posted by Christine Johson on February 1, 2010 at 3:49 pm

    Dear Friends,
    For further consideration…..

    Salt Lake County and Salt Lake City have some of the densest populations within the State. Park City and Summit County are just a couple of months behind in passing similar ordinances. Those four entities with protections offer employment and housing protections for hundreds of thousand citizens. We should protect those individuals as much as possible.

    Some of the bad-bills that would have passed would forever ban anti-discrimination protections in housing based upon sexual orientation and gender identity. That would be it. The door would be slammed shut and we would wait decades to overturn the legislation.

    So is it worth is to eliminate rights for all those people (btw, the highest concentrations of LGBT folks are in SLCO) and walk away with nothing this session? Among the many people who provided input in this decision to call a truce this session, the answer was “no”.

    Salt Lake City set a fine example of bringing those opposed and in favor of protections together where they worked out how to find an arrangement that works. Why not give the Utah Legislature an opportunity to have the same dialogue? Sending the legislature back to class to learn, without bias, the realities of discrimination in our State is a wise choice. I encourage you to read the bill in order to understand what will be studied, what the expected results will be and how legislation will be crafted.

    There is still work to be done by the LGBT Community, in fact, quite a lot in preparation for the study. We need peaceful dialogue during this session to talk about your families, your partners, your need for equal protections and rights. Never stop sharing your story!! Just because there are not controversial bills doesn’t mean you should not come forward and lobby for this study.

    Did you know that in our neighboring State of Colorado, it took a change in party majority to pass ENDA? That’s right, a total shift in majority from Republican to Democrat in order to pass ENDA. I took time to visit with former Colorado Senator Jenifer Viega in Denver. Sen. Viega was an openly lesbian legislator who ran the bill for eight years until it passed. She shared her struggle with me and I am prepared for the long battle ahead. Running the bill this year and expecting passage would be overly optimistic. SO my question is, “Are you ready for the long battle”?

    Did you know we live in a state where property rights trump almost everything else (that’s why Sen. McCoy’s No Smoking with children in the car bill failed) and the nearly half of the legislators are real estate developers, investment property owners and landlords including the President of the Senate?

    If we continue to educate only from our perspective and do not allow an unbiased investigation to take place we will see the same closed-minded results. It’s time to mean what we say and really look for Common Ground, not just running bills with the expectation people should see our point of view.

    It’s o.k. to be frustrated. I understand if you are disappointed. However, this is a one year process and next year, we’ll be better off because we will have used this time to have conversations and better realize that we share this State. We share neighborhoods and schools and streets and really CAN find a way to live peacefully without denying basic rights to LGBT Utahns.

    Thanks.

    Reply

  5. Posted by Scott Lundberg on February 1, 2010 at 4:12 pm

    Has this compromise been documented as a matter of public record anywhere? I for one would like to read the full text of it if it is available. If it isn’t, I’ll be the first to say that I don’t have the level of trust in the legislature to let it all hinge on a “gentleman’s agreement,” as it were.

    If this is the best solution for the moment in order to protect what we have, that’s fine. However, I wish we could see a more realistic time-line (again, where’s the documentation) as to who is doing what and by when. Let’s also be honest that seeing the results of a committee study next year does not necessarily equate to action next year. Our legislative session is short in Utah and seeing a report and then getting actionable results from that report within the same session sounds incredibly far-fetched to me. We’re looking at two years, minimum here in my view, though I challenge the legislature to prove me wrong!

    Reply

    • Posted by Scott Lundberg on February 1, 2010 at 6:07 pm

      After looking through the bills for this legislative session to see if I could find some text to clarify some of my concerns, I found Rep. Johnson’s HB 128 (http://le.utah.gov/~2010/bills/hbillint/hb0128.pdf).

      I’m pleased to say that Section 4 outlines some good direction for the committee in terms of what it needs to study as well as its deadline and product. As written currently, the bill requires the committee to ” . . . issue a written report by no later than November 30, 2010, which shall include any legislation recommended by the designated committee.”

      This is why I wanted to read the text of what is being proposed. I had been under the impression that actionable legislation could not come out of this process (if it is part of the committee’s recommendations) in time for the 2011 general session. It looks like the current guidelines would allow for that to happen, which helps to assuage some of my concerns.

      Section 7 however, feels less formidable than it should. Section 7 deals with the agreement to hold off on legislation until after the committee issues its findings. Here’s the text (as written currently):

      “The Legislature encourages a political subdivision that has not taken any public action to initiate the enactment of a resolution or ordinance addressing discrimination to not initiate such a process until the Legislature is able to consider the results of the study required by this section during the 2011 General Session.”

      All in all, it’s important to remember that bills can change through the legislative process, so we should all keep a close eye on it as it makes its way through. For now, I suppose I can be “encouraged” to do just that as this plays out over the next few months.

      Reply

  6. Posted by Isaac Higham on February 1, 2010 at 4:25 pm

    Part of being a good fighter is knowing WHEN to fight, and when to take what you can get. We lose nothing through this compromise. Yes, we have made some great strides in the last 18 months or so in bringing equality to the public eye, but the fact remains our bills didn’t get out of committee last year and didn’t stand a chance of passing this year. So we lose nothing, but GAIN them taking their bills of the table. If those bills had passed, they would have been devastating and a huge setback to equality in Utah.

    Just my two cents.

    Reply

  7. Posted by Martha Amundsen on February 1, 2010 at 5:35 pm

    Christine you are correct, we should protect the people of Salt Lake City and Salt Lake County to the extent possible however, we should not do so at the threat of extortion. As similar to the US State Department, we shouldn’t pay ransom for hostages as it just encourages more bad behavior.

    I am one LGBT resident of both Salt Lake City and Salt Lake County willing to take this risk of losing these small partial protections. My point is this: If these so called “bad-bills” are proposed let the light shine on the anti-gay legislators to show their true colors and use our efforts to campaign against the passage of the discriminatory bills. The public opinion has changed tremendously within the last year. In fact according the SL Tribune, 67% of Utahns favor the employment protections with 13% unsure. These “bad-bills” may not pass this year, but if they do, they will NOT be in place forever due to litigation and/or federal legislation. When I spoke about ENDA, I was referring to the federal act (not any state legislation). It is my opinion that the real change we are looking for here in Utah, is going to have to come from a federal level whether its federal legislation, or federal litigation. Nevertheless, we should continue to fight for it on a state level. If these discriminatory bills pass, they WILL be part of the evidence you are seeking to obtain. I would encourage you to obtain the evidence presented in the federal Prop 8 trial in California if you are seeking evidence of LGBT discrimination. There has never been a better record assembled. You can start with the transcripts here: http://www.equalrightsfoundation.org/our-work/hearing-transcripts/

    I will certainly read the bill to see what has been proposed with the study. Did both sides agree that they would take certain actions depending on the results of the study? My concern is that the study is done and the other side still refuses to promote equality and we are one year further down the road.

    I believe that social change we are seeking will come about through the 3 “L’s” – Legislation, Litigation, and Love (educating others about our lives, our stories). Thus, I agree with you that we need to continue to be visible and telling our stories. I have done this and will continue to do and yes, I am and have been prepared for the “long battle.” There is no “one way” to promote equality as I believe it takes a myriad of efforts.

    Having said all that, I appreciate your continued to efforts to support equality, I just do not agree with this decision.

    Reply

  8. Posted by Michelle on February 1, 2010 at 6:07 pm

    For all of you who have not yet read the bill.

    http://le.utah.gov/~2010/htmdoc/hbillhtm/hb0128.htm

    Reply

  9. Posted by Lisa Altman on February 1, 2010 at 6:37 pm

    I agree whole heartedly with Martha and not just because she is my wife. Bottom line, with the spot light glaring down on Utah, and, in particular the Mormon heirarchy, I believe there is no better time than now for a full court press.

    With the additional attention that the imminent nationwide release of 8 the Mormon Proposition will generate, along with the inevitable publicity that will accompany the decision in the federal Prop 8 trial (and the attendant Circuit Court and Supreme Court appeals), regardless of the outcome, I believe we are in the power position right now.

    If the pro-equality group proposes bills and they are passed, great, we make headway. If the pro-equality group proposes bills and they are voted down, we can exploit the bigotry and discrimination.

    On the other side of the coin, regarding the possibility of legislation banning all municipal and county non-discrimination ordinances, I say BRING IT ON! If the anti-equality folks in fact introduce their anti-anti-descrimination bill, we can exploit the bigotry and discrimination. And, if they actually prevail with this legislation, it will provide indisputable evidence of descrimination at the state level. This evidence, in turn, would provide the perfect platform for federal litigation or could be used to evidence the need for a federal solution on the national legislative stage.

    So, I say, call their bluff. They (the anti-equality group) have smart attorneys working for them who undoubtedly can see the play I am proposing. In the end, I suspect they will be reticent to push too hard in light of the current publicity environment. However, even if they do push their pro-discrimination agenda this legislative session, so what! Worse case scenario, if they are successful and the legislation passes, we will have unprecidented evidence on which to bring a massive class action law suit. Imagine, the LGBT population of the State of Utah vs. the Utah State Legislature, Governor Herbert, and the Attorney General of the State of Utah, et. al. Kinda’ has a nice ring to it.

    Reply

  10. Posted by Dominique on February 1, 2010 at 10:15 pm

    I’m undecided on this “compromise”. I find it fascinating to hear both sides of the argument and am actually enjoying hearing the variety of opinions. I’m leaning toward believing this so-called compromise or detante may be beneficial… unless as eloquently expressed above… this is just another stall tactic by self-righteous bigots.

    I heard something interesting today that I’d like to throw into the soup. It went something like this:

    “Too many LGBT people and LGBT leadership folks of Utah are suffering from Stockholm Syndrome. So enamoured with their relationship with the opressor (LD$, Inc.); so bound by the self-fulfilling prophecy of being told since birth that people like us are sinful and unworthy and therefore lucky to get table scraps; so blinded by the disengenuous publicity stunts… that they are not only afraid of stepping on Mormon toes, they are willing to “sleep” with their opressor hoping to gain the heretofore never fulfilled promises of tolerance, let alone acceptance and respect.”

    Penny for your thoughts

    Reply

    • Posted by Reb Huggins on February 2, 2010 at 12:54 pm

      Dom, this is exactly what I’m talking about! Thank you for posting. I look forward to Town Hall meetings on this issue.

      Reply

  11. Posted by Martha Amundsen on February 1, 2010 at 10:26 pm

    @Dominique: As to the Stockholm Syndrome – I agree. As I stated, my civil rights, as dictated by the US Constitution, should not and do not depend on any church’s approval. To that end, when members of the LGBT community were thanking the Mormon church for their support of SLC non-discrimination ordinance, I was envisioning those folks doing a Sally Fields Oscar acceptance speech, “You like me, you really like me!”

    Reply

  12. […] equality, Equality Utah, Gay, gay rights, lgbt, SLC, study, survey, utah. Leave a Comment When the “compromise” first started rolling out, Utahns were told that a year-long study would be included to show […]

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