A bill that would prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation appears dead for this year, but its supporters brought energy to a rally Wednesday afternoon at the Utah Capitol.
“We’re under no illusion this is going to make it out to be heard this session,” said Connie Anast-Inman, who blocked the door to Gov. Gary Herbert’s office during a protest in support of SB100 last month. “But we need to keep it in the minds of the legislators ... this is going to be a top issue next year.”
Owen Smith, manager of community programs for Equality Utah, said he trained as an emergency medical technician in his home state of Maryland but ended up living out his car for a time when crews balked at hiring him because he is transgender.
“‘What are you, anyway?’” said Smith, describing the reactions he got when potential employers realized his appearance didn’t match the name on his driver’s license. “We can’t have you around patients ... you’re just too much.’”
When he moved to Utah last year, Smith said, he contacted 16 rental agencies before he could find an apartment.
“Don’t think that because you came to this rally, you did your part,” Smith said, encouraging the crowd of about 400 people to get more involved in politics and the legislative process. “You have the power to end discrimination in our state.”
American Fork High School senior Ethan Johnson said he and his classmates faced an “uphill battle” to establish a gay-straight alliance. After the club was approved in November, students scrawled hate speech on their posters and tore them down. They put up another round, then a third.
“After the first wave of posters, those who had hate became more indifferent,” he said — while the kids who were excited about the cause got more involved. Now, about a dozen students come to meetings.
“I want to live in a world where everyone is under the equal gaze of the law,” Johnson said.
SB100 sponsor Sen. Steve Urquhart, R-St. George, said he felt a little awkward accepting a roar of applause from the crowd.
“So many of you have walked so many miles down this road and you’ve suffered so much, and I’m new to it,” he said, adding that he appreciated those who patiently worked to convince him to support the proposal to prohibit discrimination in housing and employment.
It’s been proposed for five years, but didn’t make it out of committee until Urquhart got behind it last year.
Though polls indicate a solid majority of Utahns support the idea, legislative leaders have said they won’t hear any bills related to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender issues (LGBT) this year — including other proposals less friendly to the LGBT community — as the state defends its ban on gay marriage in court.
“I get it, there are some things to be pissed off about,” Urquhart said. But “the way we win this is, my colleagues get walked to this position.”
Utah’s sole openly gay legislator, Sen. Jim Dabakis, D-Salt Lake City, echoed the sentiment.
“It’s frustrating, it’s exhausting and it’s hard, but we need to be patient with our legislators. They are going at breakneck speed for them,” he said.
Activists have nevertheless been pushing to have the bill heard, leaving hundreds of notes on the Senate door and organizing the protest that led to the arrests of 13 last month as they blocked access to a committee hearing.
Angela Isaacs, a straight Mormon woman, spoke to the crowd with fellow arrestee Gail Murdock.
“Anyone who says my religion and Gail’s rights and Gail’s happiness cannot coexist does not speak for me,” Isaacs said. “We can and we must coexist. Even better, we can live and share and laugh and cry together.”
Thirty people stayed at the Capitol after the hour-long rally, many wearing signs, to keep the issue in people’s minds.
Gail Turpin, another of the so-called Capitol 13, said her LGBT friends and family are “responsible, caring parents” with strong commitments to each other.
“This is not a religious issue. It’s a civil rights issue,” she said. “Second-class citizenship will never be enough.”