Utah's first openly gay legislator resigns
Rep. Jackie Biskupski, Utah's first openly gay legislator, announced Monday she is resigning her state House seat because she and her adopted son will be moving out of her district.
"It has been an honor to be part of this body," said Biskupski, choking up with tears. "I have thoroughly enjoyed my time in the Legislature. Although some of the work has been extremely difficult, it is work that has been something I was extremely proud to do."
Biskupski served 12 years representing House District 30 in the Salt Lake City neighborhood around Westminster College.
She stepped down from the Legislature's Redistricting Committee last month in anticipation of adopting a second child, but the mother backed out, she said. Biskupski still is looking to adopt another child her first, Archie, is 18 months old which brought about her move.
Biskupski's new home is in the district just to the east, where she said she will have more room for her family to grow. She has ruled out running for mayor of Utah's capital this year, but reiterated her interest in making such a bid in 2015.
A self-described activist for social justice, Biskupski said she is proudest of what she was able to do to help the homeless, the poor and the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community, along with her work making it easier for mothers to give birth at home with the help of a midwife.
Her greatest regret: Failing to repeal Utah's law banning same-sex couples from adopting children.
Elected in 1998 as Utah's first openly gay state lawmaker, Biskupski said she was met with hostility by some legislators and political opponents.
"When I first came in â¦ there were legislators who couldn't even look me in the eye or didn't want to shake my hand," she said. "There were people asking the [House] speaker not to seat me and fight my election."
Gayle Ruzicka, president of the Utah Eagle Forum, said there was resistance to Biskupski when she first arrived at the Capitol, and some in the Eagle Forum have worked to defeat Biskupski through the years.
"When you're the first homosexual to serve, I think, everybody is trying to figure out how to cope and how to handle things. It takes everybody a while to adjust to something like that. I'm sure she felt [ostracized]. She was alone," said Ruzicka, who now considers the lawmaker a friend. "Just because of someone's sexual choices doesn't mean you can't be their friend."
Biskupski said legislators' attitudes toward her have changed and she now enjoys the respect and camaraderie of her colleagues.
"It's like night and day," she said.
Since Biskupski joined the Legislature, two other openly gay lawmakers former Rep. Christine Johnson and ex-Sen. Scott McCoy have served. All three have resigned in the past 19 months.
That leaves the body without a member of the LGBT community, a voice that activist Eric Ethington said is essential at the Capitol. He was working Monday to recruit members of the community to run for the seat.
"We have a lot of LGBT allies in the Legislature," he said. "They're just amazing people, but you need someone who can actually represent each community of interest, and if there is no one upthere who knows personally what it feels like to be a member of the community, then it really doesn't do anybody any good."
Although Biskupski would like that group to have a voice at the Capitol, she said she will leave the selection of her replacement to Democratic delegates when they meet next month.
"I'm sure there will be an emptiness about leaving, especially if somebody gay doesn't get elected into this spot," she said, "but I can't continue to make decisions in my life and put the LGBT community first, which I have been doing for so long. Really, my family needs to come first."
House Minority Leader David Litvack, D-Salt Lake City, praised Biskupski, calling her a mentor and a valuable part of the Democratic Caucus.
"She has meant a great deal to our entire Legislature and the entire state," he said. "She has done a tremendous job standing up for her constituents, fighting for her values and principles, fighting for what is just."
House Speaker Becky Lockhart, R-Provo, joined the Legislature the same year as Biskupski.
"Despite her being in the minority, she became very good at working behind the scenes to get legislation passed that was important to her constituents," Lockhart said in a statement. "I count her as one of my legislative friends and wish her the best."
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Democratic Party officials have scheduled a special election next month to replace Rep. Jackie Bis-kupski. The gathering will be held in conjunction with the state party convention on July 16. Todd Taylor, Utah Democratic Party executive director, said he expects a half-dozen or more candidates to vie for the seat.