Salt Lake City Council members admonish GOP lawmakers’ efforts to remove UTA pride bus

The lawmakers’ efforts “reinforced the message that government systems can decide that some people do not belong,” the council members wrote.

Three members of the Salt Lake City Council said in a letter to state lawmakers Friday that they are deeply concerned and disappointed after records show four GOP legislators complained to the Utah Transit Authority last week about a pride-themed bus, which the transit agency later decided to pull from the annual Utah Pride Parade.

The bus featured colors from the progress pride flag, and UTA showcased it in a Twitter post on May 31, the day before Pride Month began. The tweet apparently prompted the GOP lawmakers’ complaints, according to text messages The Salt Lake Tribune obtained Tuesday through a public records request.

By June 2, UTA had made the decision to pull the pride-themed bus from the parade and replace it with one of UTA’s Gillig Electric buses, which did not have pride livery — though in the parade, it was still decorated with pride flags.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) A Gillig Electric UTA bus in the Pride Parade, decorated with pride flags on Sunday, June 4, 2023. A UTA bus with pride livery was initially planned for the parade, but a decision was later made to pull the pride-wrapped bus and instead feature this electric one.

The letter that Salt Lake City Council Chair Darin Mano, council member Chris Wharton and council member Alejandro Puy sent Friday was addressed to the entire state Legislature — including the four lawmakers who records show texted UTA officials about the bus. Mano, Wharton and Puy all openly identify as LGBTQ+.

“UTA provides an essential service for all members of our community, regardless of sexual preference, gender identity, income, age, or race,” the letter states. “The Pride Rainbow stands as a welcome sign to all, especially the most marginalized, that we are safe to ride. The pressure to exclude the bus from the parade sends a disheartening message to the LGBTQIA+ community and undermines progress toward inclusivity, belonging, and acceptance.”

Gov. Spencer Cox did not immediately respond to a request for comment Friday.

The text messages obtained Tuesday were sent by House Majority Leader Mike Schultz, R-Hooper; Rep. Candice Pierucci, R-Herriman; Rep. Kay J. Christofferson, R-Lehi; and Rep. Colin Jack, R-St. George, records show.

In the messages, the lawmakers expressed their displeasure with the bus, and most said they were concerned about public funding being used for the livery, although the pride-wrapping was funded from a private donation from R&R Advertising and Lamar Advertising, UTA spokesperson Carl Arky told The Tribune.

“Honestly this is the last thing I want to deal with right now,” Schultz said in a text to a UTA board member. “It seriously would be best if you made the change on your own. Let me know what you guys come up with.”

(Utah Transit Authority) A Utah Transit Authority bus with pride livery, as shared in a tweet from UTA on May 31, 2023.

Schultz told the board member that a group of legislators wanted UTA to make a “formal public apology,” and referenced an apparent quote from House Speaker Brad Wilson, who in April announced he was exploring a 2024 U.S. Senate run against Sen. Mitt Romney.

“Whoever made the decision to move forward with this bus absolutely knew it would be controversial,” Schultz continued. “To quote the Speaker ‘we live in Utah, we shouldn’t have to deal with this stuff.’”

In their letter, Mano, Wharton and Puy said that lawmakers’ pressure to remove the bus reinforced the message that “government systems can decide that some people do not belong,” the council members wrote, adding that it ”reminds us of Rosa Parks being expected to give up her seat for a white passenger.”

“As lawmakers who represent all Utahns, your opportunity is to invest taxpayer funds responsibly and create an environment where all individuals feel safe and valued,” the letter continues. “And that includes transit.”

The council members said the pride-themed bus should not be considered a political statement, and that the privately funded livery would have served as a “powerful symbol of support” demonstrating that the state stands against all types of discrimination.

“We must remember the LGBTQIA+ community continues to face unique challenges and often encounters prejudice right here in the Utah cities they love dearly,” the council members wrote.

“We wish the Pride Parade could have been used as a time to focus on the well-being of our fellow citizens and to uphold the values of inclusivity, respect, and love,” the letter continued. “By always keeping that in mind, we, as lawmakers in our great state, can effectively embrace our communities’ differences and celebrate our shared humanity.”

The four state lawmakers who contacted UTA last week did not immediately respond to a request for comment Friday.

— This is a developing story. Check back for updates.