Person of the Year – Salt Lake City Mayor-Elect Ralph Becker

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We had many good nominations for QSaltLake’s “Person of the Year” for 2007.

The most common nomination was “me.” Everyone seemed to think that they were the
person who made the greatest impact on Utah’s gay and lesbian community in the last year.

Our decision came down to who raised the issue of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender rights the loudest and in the most ardent way.

Person of the Year - Ralph BeckerLast year could be called a watershed year for Utah’s gay community. For the first time, all serious mayoral contenders were wooing gay support in many different ways. Issues of concern to gay people were front and center in the race, even after the primary election, where it is known that gay voters turn to the poll in greater numbers than the general population.

One person stood out with his bold plans, out there for the world to see in mailings, in speeches and on his campaign Web site.

Ralph Becker is the one candidate who took the time to sit down and draw up a plan — a bold plan — to further the civil rights of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Salt Lake City citizens. In his Universal Human Rights Initiative for Salt Lake City, he drafted a “blueprint” (which he is now famous for) for everything from a domestic partnership registry to requiring any company doing business with the city to haev a nondiscrimination clause in their bylaws.

Becker never shrank from his support of equal rights for gay people, even when Rod Decker bellowed (as is his style) on a televised debate that gay couples would be going to city hall to basically get “married.” His opponent did shrink from the proposal, but Becker was steadfast.

Becker will fill the social progressive shoes of outgoing mayor Rocky Anderson and take greater, more well-thought proposals to the city council.

Life in Salt Lake City will never be the same.

Interview with Ralph Becker

MICHAEL AARON: What brought you to tah/Salt Lake and why did you stay?

RALPH BECKER: Moving to Salt Lake City as a conscious decision by me. After rowing up on the East Coast, I started orking during the summers in college t the Grand Canyon for the National Park Service and fell in love with this region’s landscapes and communities. I liked Salt Lake City for its wonderful mix of assets, was accepted to law school, and moved here from Arizona in 1974. Salt Lake City has a tremendous combination of easy access to the mountains and deserts, a friendly population, and a progressive political orientation. It is big and well-located enough to have the amenities and diversity of a bigger city, the friendliness of a smaller town, and attractiveness of a spectacular natural environment. There is no other place I’d rather live.

MA: What was your fi rst involvement with the issue of gay civil rights, and if different, your fi rst involvement with Utah’s gay community?

RB: My first involvement with gay civil rights came in two ways. First, as a relatively young man, a dear friend informed me he was gay; I came immediately to the realization that gay issues are at their heart civil rights issues.

My involvement in gay/LBGT policy and politics started when I ran for the Utah House of Representatives in 1996. I spent time with gay civil rights folks I knew, becoming informed about a range of issues. After my election and throughout my time in the Legislature, I looked for ways to block anti-gay legislation, and foster non-discrimination and bigotry in discussion and action.

MA: How did your “Universal Human Rights Initiatives for Salt Lake City” come about? What kind of research did you do?

RB: A great pleasure in running for Mayor was to explore what next steps Salt Lake City could pursue to further human rights, following the tremendous leadership of Mayor Anderson in his social justice agenda. I, and my campaign staff, researched the types of initiatives that other communities were pursuing, what was possible under Utah law, and the range of options for Salt Lake City. We then reviewed these ideas and gathered other thoughts from discussions with Equality Utah leaders and Utah legal experts.

We were able to find many opportunities for improvements in our laws and policies, even within the constraints of Utah law.

MA: You are the first local politician to so squarely put forth solid proposals for gay civil rights. Why did you hit the issue so squarely in your campaign?

RB: From the beginning of my political life, I have wanted to address gay civil rights, but have felt constrained and defensive within the Utah legislative setting. Looking at the opportunity to set an agenda for Salt Lake City freed me from prior political realities and allowed me to approach what we, in Salt Lake City, can do to move our community into its rightful place at the forefront in Utah and even nationally.

MA: What do you think your greatest challenge will be walking in on your first day as mayor?

RB: I have an ambitious agenda for equal rights, environment, downtown vitality, neighborhood protection, and a quality public education. My challenge will be for me and other Salt Lake City government employees to assure that we maintain and improve City services, effectively address community issues that come to us, but keep focused on accomplishing the objectives we have laid out in the campaign.

I’m excited for the opportunity.

MA: What else would you like to tell Utah’s gay and lesbian community?

RB: Thank you for your perseverance, patience, and involvement. Let’s keep making progress to achieve the American dream of justice for all. Q

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