A seat at the table
Another statewide non-discrimination bill was once again introduced at this year's legislative session and once again it was killed. Still, at least it was acknowledged with a hearing before, of all committees, the Government Operations and Political Subdivisions Committee.
But was it ever genuinely considered? Those of us in the LGBT community are used to the same song and dance, whether the issue is non-discrimination, adoption, or any legislation that would make us equals to our straight counterparts.
It tune goes something like this: We pack the room, listen to thought-provoking testimony, and then, without fail, Gayle Ruzicka speaks. A Democrat makes a motion to approve the legislation, and then a Republican substitutes a motion to have it tabled. And it is, effectively killing it.
This hearing, on Feb. 3, wasn't much different.
First, we sat in a committee room that was so packed a Capitol worker began barring entry including to elected officials, reporters and anyone else not already in the room. Well, almost anyone. Realizing the Legislature doesn't dance well without its best dance partner, Sen. Margaret Dayton sent her aide to fetch Ruzicka. Moments later, the hyper-conservative with a perpetual seat at the table was ensconced in the only seat available a senator's chair on the dais.
After personal testimony of those affected by discrimination, support from the Catholic Church of Utah (the LDS Church has already publicly supported similar municipal ordinances) and the business community, Ruzicka was invited to speak. And she did, employing fear-based hypotheticals, including her inability to discriminate as she sees fit if this law were to pass. Then, like clockwork, Democratic Sen. Luz Roblez made a motion to pass the bill to the Senate floor. Republican Sen. Scott Jenkins substituted a motion to table, the vote was cast, and it was tabled.
Afterward, the LGBT community and our allies streamed out of the room no one too surprised. But really, this time we should be. The masses are with us. Over 70 percent of Utahns support this legislation. Fourteen cities have passed similar ordinances, and major businesses and business organizations support the legislation, saying it will help bring jobs and business growth. If there was a time to pass this bill, it was now. But it seems the Legislature insists on the status quo, even at the expense of growth, progress and human dignity.
Just this past month, California's Prop 8 was overturned, Washington State passed marriage equality and New Jersey adopted similar legislation.
While so many others states are having a 21st century discussion about equality, Utah remains locked in some perpetual progress vacuum, unwilling to protect lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or even straight individuals from being kicked out of their homes or fired from their jobs simply because of who they are.
We aren't asking for marriage equality, although we should. We are asking for simple and basic protection already afforded for gender, race, age and religion. We are asking that we have the human dignity that everyone deserves.
In support for that principle, we will be gathering at the State Capitol on Feb. 29 from 4-6 p.m. demanding that, like Ruzicka, the rest of us deserve a seat at the table, too.
Weston Clark, a former chairman of the Salt Lake County Democratic Party, is a stay-at-home dad who lives with his partner and their 18-month-old son in Salt Lake City. He also is part-organizer of the Human Dignity Rally at the Capitol.