How do Utahns compare to Californians in supporting the LGBTQ+ community? You might be surprised.

The Republican-led Utah Legislature passed more laws targeting LGBTQ+ this year. A new poll shows that most Utahns are supportive of their LGBTQ+ neighbors.

Dozens of Utahns filed into a filled-to-capacity committee room on the second day of Utah’s 2024 legislative session to give input on a bill imposing more restrictions on the state’s transgender residents. A line of people opposing the measure wrapped around rows of chairs and stretched out the door, beyond lawmakers’ view.

And it turns out those crowds may be more representative of feelings statewide about policies governing LGBTQ+ Utahns’ lives than those held by the Republican-led Legislature.

Utah was among states with the highest support for nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ+ Americans — ahead of reliably blue states like California and New York — in a 2023 survey conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute, the findings of which were published last week.

With 86% of Utah participants signifying they back measures safeguarding their LGBTQ+ neighbors from discrimination, the only state with more enthusiasm for such laws was Hawaii with 88%, while 87% from the District of Columbia also agreed.

Among those surveyed in California — whose liberal policies Utah officials often deride — 79% said they support nondiscrimination protections.

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According to the PRRI survey, about 9% of Utahns identify as LGBTQ+ — a number that’s not far off from other recent large-scale estimates.

When asked other questions about LGBTQ+ rights, Utahns were more closely aligned with residents in other red states, falling below the national average. But the majority of those who responded in the Beehive State still favored more liberties for the LGBTQ+ community.

Approximately 65% of Utahns answered that they support the right of same-sex couples to marry legally — a right that has been considered protected by the U.S. Constitution for nearly a decade and was codified in 2022 with support from Utah’s predominant faith, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, because of exemptions carved out for churches.

And in a state to which members of that church came to flee religious persecution, 55% oppose allowing small business owners to refuse services to LGTBQ+ people on the basis of their faith — like the cake maker and website designer, both from Colorado, whose cases ended up in front of the U.S. Supreme Court after they declined to work with soon-to-be married same-sex couples.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) The Utah State Capitol is pictured on Tuesday, May 23, 2023, as a pride flag flaps in the wind.

While Utah is not among the Republican-led states that came in below 50% in that category, it fell below all of its Democrat-led counterparts.

The state made national headlines in 2015 for a bill dubbed the “Utah Compromise,” which established nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ+ people while keeping religious organizations exempt.

As some states pass their own versions of a Religious Freedom Restoration Act, and some courts across the country interpret those laws to allow discrimination against LGBTQ+ people, a bill approved by the Utah Legislature last month was amended to reaffirm the body’s intent to keep the compromise’s protections in place.

“Utah has enacted a number of laws that balance religious freedom with other important civil rights, and this complements rather than disrupts the balance,” Woods Cross Republican Sen. Todd Weiler explained to his colleagues on the Senate floor.

But state lawmakers also passed restrictions on the transgender community for the third consecutive year. The new law redefines “female” and “male” in multiple portions of Utah code to exclude transgender people, as well as to keep them from using bathrooms and locker rooms that align with their gender identity in government-owned buildings. Questions about the full impact of the bill remain.

As public officials spread disinformation about the community during those debates, hate crimes against LGBTQ+ Utahns have been on the rise. In 2023, Utah’s Bureau of Criminal Identification reported a nearly threefold increase from the previous year to 92.

In terms of equality, the LGBTQ+ rights-focused think tank Movement Advancement Project has given Utah a “low overall policy tally.”