Beginning Oct. 23 and ending in November, Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker’s office will hold a series of public discussions on the ways discrimination—including anti-gay discrimination—impacts the community.
The series’ purpose? To help Becker craft a nondiscrimination ordinance.
“The goal [of the series] is to encourage the discussion with the public on developing public policy,” said Yolanda Francisco-Nez, Diversity and Human Rights Coordinator with the mayor’s office. “In the end we hope to establish a nondiscrimination ordinance. All of this will be based on constituent input and factual evidence based on research.”
The series will kick off Oct. 23 with a presentation by Becker and Salt Lake City Council Chair Jill Remington Love. The two will present the results of the city’s Human Rights Commission’s diversity survey conducted this April and then open the floor to a brief question and answer session with discrimination experts including representatives from the Utah Labor Commission, the Utah Pride Center, the ACLU of Utah, the Disability Law Center and the University of Utah. Salt Lake City Democratic Rep. Christine Johnson will also speak on this panel. Johnson drafted an unsuccessful bill this past legislative session that would have added sexual orientation and gender identity to Utah’s workplace nondiscrimination laws.
“At that point [Love and the mayor] will give information on the dates, times and locations of the other dialogues and what guest speakers will be speaking about,” said Francisco-Nez.
These additional five dialogues will be held through November and December, each following this format: A guest speaker will discuss how a form of discrimination (be it racism, sexism, religious prejudice or otherwise) has effected his or her life. An expert will then address how discrimination impacts society at large. A member of the city’s Human Rights Commission will then open discussion with the audience for 90 minutes.
Audience discussion is crucial, Francisco-Nez said, because the Human Rights Commission will put these discussions into its report to the mayor. The report, she added, will help Becker in determining how to craft a nondiscrimination ordinance that will address citizens’ concerns.
The ordinance, a goal Becker discussed during his bid for office, is important to the mayor, Francisco-Nez added, because “there are many forms of discrimination that are not prohibited by law today” in Utah.
“There’s serious harm to both the individual and society,” she said. And community support is key, she added, in stopping that harm.
“We’d like to see the community come out and not feel limited to the topic or subject matter the guest speaker is speaking about, because at the round table we want to have a broad discussion on all types of discrimination,” said Francisco-Nez.
“We could move to a round table and have a discussion about being gay and what that means to [an] individual,” she explained.
In creating the dialogues the mayor’s office worked closely with a number of community organizations, including the Utah Pride Center and gay rights group Equality Utah.
“I’ve been consulting with [the Utah Pride Center] on different parts of [these dialogues] and getting feedback on language and how best we can promote and market the dialogues,” said Francisco-Nez. “They [and Equality Utah] were both extremely supportive of our efforts and we look forward to having their participation throughout. We couldn’t do this work without them.”
Equality Utah’s executive director Mike Thompson said his organization has been involved with Becker’s human rights initiatives since Becker asked for their input on his human rights initiatives as a mayoral candidate. As a member of Becker’s transition team, Thompson examined nondiscrimination ordinances in other U.S. municipalities to help the new mayor consider what sort of ordinance could work in Salt Lake City.
“It’s very exciting that the Mayor’s Office of Diversity, the Human Rights Commission, the Salt Lake City Council and mayor are all participating in this,” he said of the dialogues.
Residents who would like to tell the Mayor’s office about their experiences with discrimination but who do not want to speak in public may also write to the mayor. According to Francisco-Nez a live link will soon be available for residents to submit their stories online.
The first Dialogue on Discrimination will be held Oct. 23 at 451 S State St, room 326. The presentation will begin at 6:00 p.m.