LGBT-rights rally vents fury over failed legislation
As lawmakers met on Wednesday in their final committee hearings this session, more than 100 people shouted outside their doors to protest lawmakers inaction on measures that would protect Utah's gay and transgender community. They called out several Republican senators by name and chanted "Enough is enough."
"Are you angry?" Weston Clark, an organizer of the Human Dignity Rally, asked the crowd.
"Yes," they yelled.
But the demonstrators vowed to channel their outrage into this year's election, in which all House seats and more than half the Senate will be on the ballot. One protestor carried a sign that read, "Vote the bums out." Speakers encouraged attendees to get involved in the Democratic and Republican caucus meetings on March 13 and March 15, respectively.
Isaac Higham, a 23-year-old gay man, said young people, especially, need to get out and vote.
"My generation, we stand on the shoulders of giants who for decades have fought for us to live openly," Higham told the crowd. "When we don't vote, we're not doing our part."
This is the fifth year that lawmakers have stymied a proposal to ban housing and employment discrimination based on a person's sexual orientation or gender identity. But this year's loss seems to have sparked an especially strong reaction among advocates for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community. The defeat came in spite of majority support in public opinion polls and new endorsements from Utah's business community, including the Salt Lake Chamber. Fourteen cities and counties, from Logan to Moab, have passed anti-discrimination ordinances.
"I am angry, and I am frustrated that my elected officials have not listened to me or to other families," said Kathy Godwin, president of the Salt Lake Chapter of Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG).
Sen. Ben McAdams, the Salt Lake City Democrat who pushed the anti-discrimination bill this year, said that he shares demonstrators' frustration.
"I think it's ready to pass, and it's time to pass it," he said in an interview. He hopes the discussion continues throughout 2012.
"I hope lawmakers go out and they hear about this on the campaign trail," said McAdams, who is running for Salt Lake County mayor this year. "I would encourage those who want this bill passed to go to their respective caucuses whether Republican or Democratic get elected as delegates."
During a hearing on McAdams' SB51, members of the Senate Government Operations and Political Subdivisions Committee, who voted 4-2 to table the bill, raised concerns about the rights of property owners and employers. And Utah Eagle Forum President Gayle Ruzicka said it didn't go far enough to protect religious liberties. The bill would have expanded Utah's existing fair housing and employment laws that ban discrimination based on race, color, sex, national origin, religion, age or disability.
"It's kind of ridiculous. The current laws protect almost everyone but people who are gay," said 41-year-old Quang Dang, an attendee of Wednesday's rally. "It doesn't matter who you are. These are just fundamental rights that everyone should have."
LGBT-related bills in the 2012 Legislature
HB274 and SB126 • Would allow a single, legal parent to designate an unmarried partner as a co-parent for purposes of adoption. Sponsors: Rep. Rebecca Chavez-Houck, D-Salt Lake City, and Sen. Ross Romero, D-Salt Lake City. Status: No hearing in 2012.
HB64, first substitute • Would allow unmarried state employees to share their health insurance benefits with an adult designee, including a same-sex partner. Sponsor: Rep. Brian Doughty, D-Salt Lake City. Status: Was tabled by a House committee Wednesday night.
SB51 • Would expand Utah's fair housing and employment laws to forbid discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Sponsor: Sen. Ben McAdams, D-Salt Lake City. Status: Tabled by the Senate Government Operations and Political Subdivisions Committee.