Tenth Utah entity backs gay, transgender protections
Grand County has joined the ranks of Utah cities and counties that protect gay and transgender residents from housing and employment discrimination.
That means one in four Utahns, living in 10 communities from Moab to Logan, are protected from discrimination based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. Advocates for the statutes hope that groundswell of support will push the Utah Legislature to protect all Utahns.
"Each of these local governments has set an example for their residents and for business owners and property owners," said Brandie Balken, executive director of Equality Utah. "They've also set a good example for our Legislature."
Sen. Ben McAdams, D-Salt Lake City, plans to introduce a bill in the upcoming legislative session that would add sexual orientation and gender identity to existing housing and employment laws banning discrimination based on characteristics such as race, religion or national origin.
Two-thirds of Utahns support such a law, according to a January poll by The Salt Lake Tribune.
But Utah's Republican-led Legislature has quashed attempts at a statewide law each of the past three years. In the 2010 Legislature, the effort died as part of a compromise between Republicans and Democrats not to introduce any pro- or anti-gay-rights bills, including legislation that would have blocked cities and counties from adopting anti-discrimination ordinances.
"We have been very resistant in the past to doing anything that might make sexual orientation a protected class. I don't think that has changed," said House Speaker-elect Becky Lockhart, R-Provo.
In November 2009, Salt Lake City became the first city in Utah to ban employment and housing discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, winning a landmark endorsement from the LDS Church.
"The church supports these ordinances because they are fair and reasonable and do not do violence to the institution of marriage," said LDS Church spokesman Michael Otterson to the Salt Lake City Council. "I believe in a church that believes in human dignity, in treating people with respect, even when we disagree in fact, especially when we disagree."
Salt Lake County followed Salt Lake City's lead, and Equality Utah launched an effort, dubbed "Ten in 2010," to increase the list to 10 by the end of this year. Grand County expedited the ordinances to ensure passage before the new year.
"I do hope it sends a message [to the Legislature]," said Audrey Graham, chairwoman of the Grand County Council. "It obviously makes a statement that this corner of rural Utah is interested in equality."
She said the ordinances, which make it illegal to fire or evict someone for being gay but exempt religious organizations, small businesses and small landlords, are a "fairly minimal expectation."
Senate President Michael Waddoups, R-Taylorsville, who brokered last session's compromise on bills affecting the gay community, said he thinksMcAdams is "running a risk" by bringing up the issue again. Some legislators, Waddoups said, would prefer to overturn the anti-discrimination ordinances passed by Utah cities and counties.
"I think that will be a real acrimonious debate whether it will be [expanded] statewide or prohibited," Waddoups said.
He prefers to keep the status quo, allowing adoption of ordinances to be determined at the city and county level.
"So far, I've seen no advantage to the laws and I've seen no disadvantages," the senator said. "The public out there is treating people fairly and equally. I think [gay-rights advocates are] trying to make a mountain out of a molehill."
Salt Lake City, Salt Lake County and West Valley City report that no complaints have been filed since their ordinances were adopted.
Karen Hale, communications director for Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker, said the statutes have served as a deterrent and raised public awareness about the need to treat gay and transgender workers and tenants equally.
The city's Human Rights Commission issued a report in July 2009 on discrimination occurring in the capital.
"We certainly realized as a city there was, indeed, discrimination taking place," Hale said. "We really felt like [the creation and adoption of the ordinances] had an educational benefit for the community."
Anti-bias ordinances in Utah
Ten cities and counties have adopted ordinances that prohibit discrimination in housing and employment based on a person's sexual orientation or gender identity. Earlier this year, Equality Utah launched a campaign to grow the roster to "Ten in 2010."
Salt Lake City
Salt Lake County
West Valley City