Troy Williams: Mitt Romney can help find common ground on protecting LGBTQ Americans from discrimination

Utah has set an example on nondiscrimination that the nation needs to emulate.

It’s a new year, and for LGBTQ Americans nationwide, there’s renewed hope that one of the community’s key priorities – passing comprehensive nondiscrimination protections at the federal level – is finally within reach.

Following the historic Senate run-off elections in Georgia, a pro-equality majority has taken control of the United States Congress.

President Joe Biden has now issued two executive orders; one ‘Preventing and Combating Discrimination on the Basis of Gender Identity and Sexual Orientation’ and on Monday, a repeal of the military ban on transgender service members.”

For LGBTQ Americans, this is a heartening message of belonging in our country.

While we are grateful for Biden’s open heart, we recognize that a future president can reverse this order with the swipe of a pen. Executive orders often inflame passions on both sides and provide fuel to maintain the divisive culture war.

As we work through these difficult issues, it would serve all Americans to remember our years of organizing in Utah, where the most effective pathway forward has often been a big tent approach that brings together people from across the political spectrum.

In Utah, our work all but requires us to transcend party lines. In 2015 we passed a historic nondiscrimination law, the first Republican-majority state legislature in the nation to do so. We passed that bill with overwhelming bipartisan margins and support from a broad array of religious leaders, including The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, because it was the right thing to do. We illustrated that dignity and respect for LGBTQ people are not liberal or conservative values – they’re American values.

While we are proud that Utah has become a stronger, more inclusive state since passage of our own nondiscrimination law, too many LGBTQ people remain vulnerable to discrimination. Our country’s patchwork of protections is unsustainable; when Utahns leave our state’s borders, we still need the guarantee of protections – but that’s only possible with a federal law.

This is where we could use Sen. Mitt Romney’s help. We need a statesman who can help bring people together to pass common-sense bipartisan legislation to establish enduring federal nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ Americans.

While we may not always agree, Utahns have come to know Romney as a principled leader who cares about his constituents and is willing to listen with compassion. We have been inspired to see him rise to the occasion and do the right thing before.

We live in starkly divided times, and this polarization is corrosive. Too many Americans are talking past each other, failing to cede an inch of ground to the so-called “other side.” One of the most powerful ways to heal a nation is through collaboration. And Utah can light the way.

We know the importance of coming together and finding common ground. We have seen for ourselves that when a bipartisan team comes together, we can tackle problems and make change in substantial ways.

Working across the aisle doesn’t mean we surrender our values, or give up fundamental liberties and protections. We’ve found that when we respect each other’s beliefs and values, we get further than we ever imagined.

After Utah’s historic nondiscrimination law, new opportunities for collaboration emerged. In 2017, by a nearly unanimous vote, the Utah Legislature overturned a law prohibiting discussion of LGBTQ issues in public schools. In 2019, the Legislature passed an LGBTQ-inclusive hate crimes law. And in 2020, Govs. Gary Herbert and Spencer Cox were both instrumental in protecting minors from dangerous practice of conversion therapy.

At the end of 2020, state leaders adopted the Utah Compact on Racial Equity, Diversity and Inclusion, which boldly promised to include all of Utah’s minority populations in discussions of public policy reforms. Cox went further, when he recently released the One Utah Roadmap, which for the first time in state history specifically promises to expand opportunities for women, people of color and LGBTQIA+ Utahns.

This would be an unprecedented step in other conservative states. In Utah, it is just the logical continuation of our bipartisan work.

Our divided country could benefit from this approach. Imagine Democrats and Republicans working together to bring the dream of full equality across the finish line. Who better than Romney to bring people together? He can share what we’ve learned in Utah and set an example for the nation.

It’s time for our leaders in the Senate to meet this moment of extreme turbulence and illuminate a different path. It’s time to end the culture wars, and prove that when we work together and secure full protections for all LGBTQ Americans, everyone wins.

Troy Williams | executive director of Equality Utah

Troy Williams is the executive director of Equality Utah.