On Jan. 27, independent insurance broker Jonathan “Jon” Jepson came to the attention of many Utahns, gay and straight, when he testified before the Senate Judiciary, Law Enforcement, and Criminal Justice Committee in support of Salt Lake Democratic Senator Scott McCoy’s Wrongful Death Amendments bill (SB 32)—a bill that would allow loved ones other than parents, children and spouses to sue if someone with whom they share financial obligations dies because of medical malpractice or negligence.
If his fiancé, Queer Utah Aquatics Club president Paul Reynolds, were to die in such a manner, Jepson told senators that he would likely be unable to keep his house or stave off bankruptcy.
“It is highly unlikely I could continue with my financial obligations — our obligations,” he said at the time.
But like many gay and transgender people who speak out on bills that could help people Utah law largely ignores, Jepson does much more for the community than look anti-gay Sen. Chris Buttars, R-West Jordan, in the eye. Jepson not only serves on the board of directors for QUAC and the Utah Pride Center, he also advocates for Equality Utah and serves as co-chair for the gay rights group’s annual Allies Dinner, along with Brandie Balkan.
“The greatest thing about my profession is it allows me to do these other things I’m passionate about,” says Jepson. “It doesn’t commit me to sit at my desk from 9-5 every day, and it allows me to get away and serve in diff community and non profit organizations. I’m really lucky that way.”
Before Jepson entered the insurance business, stepped foot inside Utah’s Capitol Building, or even came out as gay, he was doing something many Utahns would find familiar: growing up on a farm. In his case, a farm in a little southern Idaho town outside of Preston, the town made famous in Napoleon Dynamite. He moved to Utah to pursue a degree in business finance from the University of Utah and has remained here ever since—with the exception of the two years he spent in England on an LDS mission.
Once active in the LDS Church, Jepson said he eventually left the faith in which he was raised, though not because of his sexuality.
“I felt the church was not what it purported to be—that being the only true and living Church on the face of the earth,” he says.
Like many other Mormons who come out as gay to church leaders, Jepson’s bishop had counseled him to serve a mission, marry in the temple and have children. When the bishop’s promise did not come to pass, Jepson said he hid his sexuality from his wife.
“I was very discouraged and hated myself for being gay,” he remembers. The sorrow he experienced from “not being true to myself” took a toll on Jepson’s mental and physical health—at one point, he weighed 305 pounds.
When Jepson finally left the church, he knew he was taking a gamble—one which he says he largely lost. His wife divorced him, and he lost several business clients. But at the same time, Jepson says his “self-image and happiness improved immensely” as he finally began coming out.
To get to know more “people like him who were gay,” Jepson joined the Queer Utah Aquatic Club, where he soon became treasurer. Here he lost 140 pounds and gained his partner, QUAC president Paul Reynolds. He started volunteering for the Utah Pride Center last year, after QUAC annual Ski ‘n’ Swim weekend teamed up and the Center’s now-defunct Winterfest.
“I was so impressed with those people, how professional they were and how well they represented the LGBT community,” Jepson recalls. He donated his time and money to the Center, and hosted tables at the Center’s annual National Coming Out Breakfast. Soon, Center leadership asked him to serve on the organization’s board of directors, a new commitment that Jepson says he is “excited” to undertake.
Another thing that he is excited to do is lobby. These days, Jepson can often be found on Capitol Hill, lobbying for Equality Utah’s Common Ground Initiative, a set of four bills and one policy change aimed at securing equal housing and employment protections, probate rights, and other rights for gay and transgender Utahns. Most pivotally, Jepson has helped Equality Utah draft a proposal urging Gov. Jon Huntsman, Jr. to issue an Executive Order that would extend healthcare benefits to adult designees of all state employees.
Although Jepson is no stranger to lobbying — in the past, he has advocated for bills pertaining to insurance on state and national levels — he says he gets a few surprised looks from state legislators when they see him sporting a Common Ground button in the capitol’s halls.
When he is not at the capitol speaking to a surprised senator about the need for the Common Ground Initiative to pass, Jepson says he enjoys swimming, running, reading and spending time with friends and with his fiancé — even if Reynolds seems to enjoy renovating the condo they just built more than he does.
“Paul loves working on the kitchen and remodeling, but I don’t really like it,” he laughs. “So the agreement is Paul puts down the tiles and installs the cupboards, and I go into my office and work on fighting for our rights.”
He also flies to Colorado each month to visit his four children: Sarah, Mary, Emma and Daniel. The kids moved when Jepson’s ex-wife remarried a few years ago.
“I’m very lucky to have such wonderful talented kids who are obedient, but have just the right amount of obstinance,” he says. “I always like it when they question things, it never bothers me when they question my authority. It’s something I didn’t do enough when I was young.”
But whether he is planning Equality Utah’s Allies Dinner or questioning the authority of anti-gay legislators over the lives of gay and transgender Utahns, Jepson says he is a little “spotlight shy.”
“I’m very happy to serve quietly from the shadows,” he says. “A lot of people don’t know who the heck I am, and I’m fine with that, I’m able to catch people off guard a little more when I do that.”