Salt Lake County to get its first openly gay councilman?
A potentially historic change awaits the Salt Lake County Council this year as two Democrats -- representing a minority not before seen on the board -- seek to fill the District 1 seat.
The primary race between Cal Noyce and Arlyn Bradshaw is believed to be the first contest between two openly gay candidates in an election in Utah. And, based on District 1's voting history, one of the two will likely win the November election and take his place on the council early next year.
While each displays his partner's photo on campaign literature and websites, the rivals aren't making their sexual orientation a centerpiece of the campaign, preferring to talk about their experience and qualifications.
That makes sense, says Tim Chambless, a political science professor at the University of Utah, who describes the matchup as the fruition of 40 years of civil rights advocacy. Sexual orientation won't be a defining factor or a wedge issue for the candidates, but a commonality.
"This is probably the first election at any level in Utah where the issue is taken off the table," Chambless said. "Both candidates share a common viewpoint or lifestyle. It is a nonissue."
While the race is contested by a Republican -- former Councilman Steve Harmsen is chasing the seat -- Noyce and Bradshaw are running in a Salt Lake City-centered district that leans overwhelmingly to the left. Even Harmsen acknowledges that his candidacy is a long shot, but says voters deserve a two-party choice.
That choice is expected to give the state's lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community more prominence than ever before on a nine-member board that oversees Utah's most-populous county.
Winds of change? » Although few suspect that an openly gay councilman would significantly shift public policy -- the Democratic majority already extended benefits to domestic partners of government employees and outlawed housing and workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity -- Equality Utah says it would send a powerful message.
"What it really says to young people [in the LGBT community] is: 'I really do have the opportunity to do anything,' " said Executive Director Brandie Balken. Sexual orientation "is not as big of an issue as it once was."
It certainly isn't a big issue in Salt Lake City, where voters have elected openly-gay legislators, such as Jackie Biskupski, Scott McCoy and Christine Johnson. Stan Penfold, the capital's first openly-gay city councilman, took office this year.
The candidates spend most of their time on the campaign trail talking about what makes each uniquely qualified for a council seat.
Noyce mentions his community involvement with Head Start, the Community Action Program and the Jordan Meadows Community Council, and identifies himself as a friend of labor as president of the Central Utah Federation of Labor. Bradshaw talks about his in-the-trenches experience as a staffer to outgoing County Council Chairman Joe Hatch, as a congressional aide to U.S. Rep. Jim Matheson and as executive director of the Utah Democratic Party.
Neither candidate hides his sexual orientation.
Out in the open » Noyce hands out campaign brochures that include a prominent photo of him and his partner, Bruce Dicks. The two have been together for 12 years and live in a cozy gated community on Salt Lake City's west side.
Times have changed since Noyce was growing up in Rose Park, when being gay wasn't something people talked about openly. Even after returning to Utah as an adult -- after serving in the Air National Guard and spending a half-dozen years in Los Angeles -- he remembers only about 15 people showing up for a gay pride celebration in the state's capital city.
Utahns have grown more accepting since then, he said. And measures are being taken across the state -- an antidiscrimination ordinance recently was passed in Logan -- to protect people from persecution because of their sexuality.
"The beauty is that a fuse is lit on equality," he said, "that is blowing up all over the state."
But Noyce still knows what it feels like to be part of a sometimes-marginalized minority. He has experienced inequalities: He'd love to marry his partner, but he can't. He has experienced subtle bigotries: When he was working at Qwest on a telephone installation crew, a co-worker used to scratch out, or peel off, the rainbow sticker on his bumper.
So what would those experiences mean for a Councilman Noyce? A higher level of sensitivity for all minority groups, he said, and a commitment to move the LGBT community, in whatever way possible, toward total equality.
Bradshaw is equally unconcerned about what voters think about his sexual orientation. His website features a snapshot of him and his partner, Neil Webster. The two of them have been together for a year and a half and now live in a century-plus-old home in Salt Lake City's Marmalade district.
Bradshaw came out as a 16-year-old in southeastern Idaho. He doesn't talk much about the social struggles that accompanied that decision, but said he found greater acceptance when he moved to Salt Lake City as a 17-year-old to pursue a political science degree at the University of Utah.
"Utah does a good job at attempting to understand," he said. Motioning toward his street, Bradshaw added, "There are a lot of gay couples that live here and raise families here. We are just another family on the block."
But this political science junkie, who cut his teeth as a young Democrat in the fight to let churches and schools decide for themselves if people can tote guns inside, has some LGBT issues on his mind as well. If elected to the council, his first order of business would be to create a domestic partner registry. It's not marriage, but Bradshaw believes it is a positive step.
"I see it as part of the evolution to marriage equality," Bradshaw said, "and not an alternative to it."
He also wants to work with other counties to reform the nation's tax law, which doesn't provide domestic partners the same tax benefits on health insurance as straight couples.
More of the same » Gayle Ruzicka, head of the Utah Eagle Forum, doubts that either candidate could change the course of gay rights in Utah -- particularly when some of the most significant issues for the LGBT community, such as a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, would have to be changed at the state level.
Furthermore, the councilman the two candidates hope to replace, Joe Hatch, has been a longtime advocate of LGBT issues.
"It will be more of the same," Ruzicka predicted.
Equality Utah hasn't endorsed either candidate in the run-up to the June 22 primary.
"Either way, the County Council will be well served," Balken said. "Either of them brings unique strengths. One of the things I celebrate is that the sexual orientation of either candidate isn't important in this race."
Age » 29
Family » Partner, Neil Webster
Education » Bachelor's degree in political science from the University of Utah, currently pursuing a master's degree in public administration from the University of Utah.
Occupation » Staffer to County Councilman Joe Hatch.
Civic/career experience » Executive director to the Utah Democratic Party, staff member to former Utah House Minority Whip Patrice Arent, aide to Rep. Jim Matheson, former president of the Lesbian and Gay Student Union and College Democrats at the University of Utah.
Age » 60
Family » Partner, Bruce Dicks
Education » Graduated from West High, trained by the Air National Guard in water and sewage treatment, certified as a water treatment operator by Utah and California.
Occupation » Runs the home-based window treatment business, American Window Coverings.
Civic/career experience » President of the Central Utah Federation of Labor, vice chairman of the Jordan Meadows Community Council, adviser/trainer for the Head Start Policy Council, first vice president of the Salt Lake Community Action Program board of directors, former board member of United Way and the East Liberty Park Neighborhood Housing Services, original member of the Salt Lake Police Civilian Review Board, founder of the Utah Coalition of LGBT Union Activists and Supporters, co-founder of the Pride At Work Constituency Group of the national AFL-CIO.