This past September during Equality Utah’s Allies dinner I had the singular opportunity to share a stage with Hollywood icon Robert Redford and Mormon Republican Rep. Steve Urquhart, R-St. George.
Though a seemingly unusual ensemble, we were all honored for advancing LGBT equality in our state. The spirit in the Salt Palace that night was electric. We can all see where our nation is headed.
I have long been intrigued by Urquhart. He has always been something of an anomaly, speaking his mind and taking independent positions. During the Salt Lake County mayoral race last year, Urquhart took the refreshingly bipartisan move of endorsing then-mayoral hopeful and Democrat, Ben McAdams. He has also championed legislation to allow comprehensive sex-education in our public schools.
So it isn’t all that surprising that Urquhart would take a similarly risky position in his support for a statewide LGBT non-discrimination ordinance, despite fierce opposition within his own party.
Urquhart has become a hero to gay Utah for being the first Republican in the Utah Legislature to sponsor a non-discrimination law. His efforts created an equally historic first: The non-discrimination law made it through committee before being killed without debate on the House floor.
This may sound like an awfully low bar when states like Iowa and Washington already have marriage equality, but it is a big deal for Utah. We celebrate every step forward.
Urquhart certainly deserves praise for what, in Utah, is considered an act of political bravery, but at the risk of looking a gift horse in the mouth, we still have further to go.
In fact, praising politicians for coming into the 21st century on LGBT equality — and only on workplace discrimination in Urquhart’s case — might actually be missing the mark. It’s true that Urquhart risks brief political damage for his actions, but how does it compare to the not inconsequential psychological damage inflicted on many LGBT youth and adults through state-sanctioned policies that treat them as second-class citizens?
It is true that the LGBT community needs support from thoughtful legislators like Urquhart, but just as Urquhart has weighed the political risk of his actions, so, too, should LGBT Utahns. Urquhart has been adversarial on many issues important to our families. These also happen to be issues that affect all Utahns regardless of their gender identity or sexual orientation.
For example, Urquhart supports right-to-work laws, making a statewide non-discrimination ordinance less than effective if there aren’t workplace protections that allow those same LGBT employees to bargain alongside their coworkers for fair compensation packages.
He is against Medicaid expansion. For LGBT Utahns, who are disproportionately likely to live below the poverty line, despite the myth of double-income-earning wealth, access to Medicaid is a critical health concern.
Urquhart supported the concealed-carry bill and was going to vote to override the governor’s wise veto of that law. LGBT equality is useless when confronted with the end of the gun barrel of a bully.
He has been less-than-great on education policy, voting for ineffective testing and privatization measures, and he was the originating sponsor of the misguided voucher bill. Full marriage equality across America won’t matter without good public schools for the children of gay families.
What gay (and straight) Utahns really need are strong labor laws and equal pay for women, Medicaid expansion and affordable health care, safe gun laws and robust funding for public education. I praise Urquhart for his brave work on the LGBT non-discrimination ordinance, but I’m not letting him off the hook quite yet. I hope he will be a champion for all issues concerning justice and fairness.
Troy Williams is a producer at 90.9 FM KRCL and a board member of Alliance for a Better Utah.
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