After what has felt like both the shortest and longest six years of my life, I’m concluding my service as a member of Equality Utah’s board of directors, and the occasion has me feeling a sweet mix of nostalgia and pride.
I had no idea the fun, angst, creativity, hope and collaboration I’d experience, let alone the fairly rapid pace of queer change in Utah.
When I joined the board in 2013, we had been dealt powerful blows to legal equality (think California’s Prop 8 and Utah’s Amendment 3) and I was ready to engage in the movement in a new way, as I’d previously worked for the Utah Pride Center.
And in Utah.
The reality was painful. We couldn’t get married, couldn’t get second-parent adoptions, but we could be fired and evicted simply because of who we were or who we loved.
The lives and stories of LGBTQ people couldn’t be discussed openly by teachers in public schools and our transgender siblings lacked vital protections (ahem, and still do).
The state’s hate crimes statute didn’t protect us, conversion therapies were (and still are) widely accepted and practiced, LGBTQ youth homeless rates were sky high, and LGBTQ people could be denied access to public services and goods (still can).
I had to get my bearings on Utah’s political landscape quickly because Equality Utah was running an antidiscrimination bill sponsored by my friend and now current EU board member, former state Sen. Steve Urquhart. The bill would have protected LGBTQ people from discrimination in housing and employment. It made it out of committee (a hurdle we celebrated heartily) but ultimately died. The Kitchen v. Herbert case challenging Utah’s Amendment 3, Utah’s 2004 voter approved measure that specifically excluded same-sex couples from the freedom to marry, was filed that same month, and Utah’s road to marriage equality began to get paved with rainbow bricks.
Looking back, it seems like those pivotal moments foreshadowed a shift in political power that inspired such a momentous trajectory toward equality. I had serendipitously joined the board as Equality Utah was realizing its political strength (which is to say that while I take pride in what might be any small roles I played, the momentum created by my peers and the giants whose shoulders we all stood on are who to laud for what would follow).
Within months, Equality Utah had joined forces with attorneys involved in the Kitchen case, and local and national organizations to form the Freedom to Marry coalition (during which, I had the pleasure of acting as interim executive director while we transitioned from the brilliant Brandie Balken to the dynamic Troy Williams).
By December, Judge Robert Shelby ruled in our favor and I was hitching my wife with my coat and purse slung over my shoulder at the County Building.
And, in early 2014, my (legal!) wife, Elenor, and I joined three other couples and the ACLU of Utah in a lawsuit compelling the governor to recognize the nearly 1,300 same-sex marriages performed in Utah during the brief window it was legal.
A year later in March 2015, the Utah Legislature overwhelming passed Urquhart’s bill, the first antidiscrimination law to add protections for sexual orientation and gender identity in a red state. Watching Gov. Gary Herbert sign our protections into law was a moment I’ll never forget.
Within months, the U.S. Supreme Court granted all Americans the freedom to marry.
Then, when I was roughly 14 YEARS! pregnant with our son, Harvey, in June 2016, we helped rename 20 blocks of 900 South “Harvey Milk Boulevard” in honor of the esteemed LGBTQ icon (you bet I wore a friend-made shirt that said “Harvey’s Milk Boulevard” across the bust).
The following year, and with the help of legal genius and University of Utah law professor Cliff Rosky (who, to be fair, has been instrumental in almost every legal win for LGBTQ equality in our state in the last decade), we urged the state successfully to repeal its outdated and problematic “No Promo Homo” law that kept teachers from discussing LGBTQ people/lives in public schools.
And just this past legislative session, we witnessed the passing of a new hate crimes bill that includes sexual orientation and gender identity among those it protects.
We’ve had more wins (even just killing anti-LGBTQ bills) and setbacks than I can include, but I look at that list and glow. I have such overwhelming gratitude for witnessing life-changing and life-saving progress with a front-row seat.
If I had to be exhausted of any endeavor, I’d want it to be seeing people transforming our world into a more inclusive and loving place.
I thank Equality Utah for having me, and our state which I trust will courageously face our considerable journey toward justice that is yet to be traveled.
Marina Gomberg is a communications professional and lives in Salt Lake City with her wife, Elenor Gomberg, and their son, Harvey. You can reach Marina at email@example.com.