Some Salt Lake City residents have been evicted from or denied rental housing because they are gay. Some have lost jobs or have been passed over for promotions because of their sexual orientation or because they are transgender. Such discrimination is widespread enough to warrant government intervention.
Those are some of the findings outlined in a Salt Lake City Human Rights Commission report that prompted Mayor Ralph Becker and his staff to draft an ordinance prohibiting housing and employment discrimination based on sexual preference or gender identity. There's a need, Becker rightly points out, since neither federal nor state law designates gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender people as a protected class.
So, when employers or landlords unfairly discriminate on that basis, there is no recourse for their victims.
Federal law already makes it illegal to discriminate on the basis of age, gender, race, national origin, pregnancy, religion, color or disability. And there is growing momentum in Congress to add gay and transgender people to that list.
The Utah Antidiscrimination and Labor Division, which is responsible for enforcing federal and state laws protecting Utahns from discrimination, does not keep track of complaints from gay, lesbian and transgender Utahns. But it did record them between June 2007 and September 2008, at the request of Equality Utah. It received an average of three complaints per month, despite the fact there is no law prohibiting this kind of discrimination.
But there should be.
Salt Lake's mayor sees an urgent need to protect the GLBT community in his city. The ordinance he will present to the City Council points out that the city values diversity and that discrimination "impedes the social and economic progress of the city by preventing all people from contributing to or fully participating in the cultural, spiritual, social and commercial life of the community."
Becker has modeled his ordinance on the proposed federal Employment Non-Discrimination Act that would protect members of the GLBT community, so it should pass muster in the courts. Some members of the Utah Legislature have shown distaste for Becker's proposal. But it would show their arrogance if state lawmakers were to override a city government acting in the interests of its own citizens.
This ordinance is needed, it is well-crafted, and the City Council should adopt it.