The Human Rights Campaign, one of the largest advocacy groups for gay and transgender rights in the nation, is taking its work on the road with a blue-and-yellow "Equality Bus."
Based in Washington, D.C., the million-member group hopes to reach out to more conservative parts of the country and build support for measures ranging from same-sex marriage to banning anti-gay discrimination in employment.
The tour route zigzags through the Midwest and South but for one exception the starting point is Utah.
On Friday, the HRC bus will roll into Salt Lake City. In partnership with the Utah Pride Center and Equality Utah, there will be programs both on and off the bus throughout the weekend.
"Utah has a lack of statewide protections, but with a strong [lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender] community in Salt Lake City, it made sense to go there and kick off the tour," said Paul Guequierre, HRC spokesman. "We're reaching out to the LGBT community to empower them to be advocates for themselves and their families. We're also reaching out to the general public to raise awareness of LGBT rights."
Utah has a constitutional amendment, approved by voters by a 2-to-1 margin in 2004, that forbids same-sex marriage or civil unions. Advocacy work here has focused on rights short of marriage, such as anti-discrimination safeguards, hospital visitation and inheritance rights for same-sex partners.
While opposition to gay marriage remains strong, two-thirds of Utahns would support a statewide law to forbid housing and employment discrimination based on a person's sexual orientation or gender identity, according to a Salt Lake Tribune poll earlier this year. But, for the past three years, efforts to pass such a law have been stymied in the state Legislature.
Still, a dozen cities and counties, including Salt Lake City and Salt Lake County, have passed ordinances that forbid anti-gay and anti-transgender bias in employment and housing.
Aside from discrimination, HRC's stop in Salt Lake City also will focus on faith and family.
On Sunday, Aug. 14, the Episcopal Center of Utah will host a panel discussion on how faith can be an asset in advocating for rights for the LGBT community.
And Caitlin Ryan, a leading researcher on the impact of families on the health of LGBT youth, will be part of another panel discussion on Saturday, Aug. 13. Ryan directs the Family Acceptance Project at San Francisco State University.
LGBT youths who experience high levels of family rejection are eight times more likely to attempt suicide, six times more likely to experience depression and three times more likely to use illegal drugs than those who don't, according to Ryan's research, which has been published in the medical journal Pediatrics.
Accepting behaviors, such as showing affection for children and including them in family events even when parents may be struggling with the news their son or daughter is gay, have a positive impact.
Ryan is working on informational materials aimed at families from various religious backgrounds, including The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. She expects to release those by the end of the year.
"When gay and transgender youths are excluded from a family, the family suffers as well," Ryan said. "In an LDS family, the family is eternal so this is really a terrible loss. Our aim is to empower families to really integrate [the findings of this research] into their deeply held beliefs."
'Equality Bus' stops in Salt Lake City
The Washington, D.C.,-based Human Rights Campaign (HRC) kicks off its national "On the Road to Equality" bus tour in Salt Lake City this weekend. Events are free unless otherwise noted.
Kick-off party • Check out the bus, which contains exhibits, and meet HRC President Joe Solmonese; Friday, 3-5 p.m. at the Utah Pride Center, 355 N. 300 West.
Family acceptance • As part of a panel discussion, Caitlin Ryan will share research on how rejecting behaviors harm LGBT youths; Saturday, 2-4 p.m., Salt Lake City Main Library, Conference Room 4, 210 E. 400 South.
National movement • HRC will give a presentation on the state of the LGBT-rights movement nationwide; Saturday, 4-7 p.m., Hotel Monaco, 15 W. 200 South.
Bus open house • Last chance to view the bus before it hits the road. HRC also is hosting a 5K run-walk to benefit Volunteers of America's efforts to build a transitional home for homeless young men; Sunday, 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Cost for the 5K, which starts at 10 a.m., is $10.
Faith • Panel discussion on using faith to advocate for LGBT rights; Sunday, 2-4 p.m., Episcopal Church Center of Utah, Wasatch Room, 75 S. 200 East.
More information • bit.ly/qgJ1q5
Where is the HRC bus going?
Salt Lake City • Aug. 12-14
Omaha and Lincoln, Neb. • Aug. 18-21
Lawrence, Kan., and Kansas City, Mo. • Aug. 24-27
New Orleans • Sept. 1-5
Austin and College Station, Texas • Sept 8-10
Little Rock, Ark. • Sept. 15-18
Louisville and Lexington, Ky. • Sept. 22-25
Washington, D.C. • Sept. 30 to Oct. 3
Atlanta • Oct. 6-9
Birmingham and Tuscaloosa, Ala. • Oct. 14-16
Orlando, Fla. • Oct. 27-30