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Gay Utahns Ponder Huntsman’s Legacy

On May 16, President Obama announced his appointment of Jon Huntsman to the position of U.S. ambassador to China, a position the Republican Utah governor accepted.


The Salt Lake Tribune reported that his first confirmation hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee could happen as early as the first week of June.

News of Huntsman’s appointment has elicited several responses from gay and transgender Utahns including disappointment at the loss of a politician many perceived as an ally — or, at least, not an obstacle to gay and transgender rights. In February, Huntsman made headlines across the nation by publicly supporting civil unions, earning him criticism from some of his party members and a few anti-gay organizations. He also expressed interest in a suggested policy change by Equality Utah — part of the statewide gay rights group’s Common Ground Initiative — to extend healthcare benefits to the unmarried partners of state employees.

Still, some said that Huntsman’s support had not gone far enough.

“What would have been nicer would have been if he had either 1. vetoed any of the draconian anti-gay bullshit that emanated from the Legislature, or 2. even faintly criticized any of the draconian anti-gay bullshit that emanated from the Legislature. He didn’t do that,” wrote City Weekly writer Brandon Burt on Brandon’s Big Gay Blog, the blog he writes for the paper. “But at least he didn’t actively try to thwart us at every turn.”

Other Utahns expressed apprehension over the course the struggle for political equality will take under Lt. Gov. Gary Herbert. In an interview with the Salt Lake Tribune, Herbert, who ran for the office in 2004 before joining Huntsman’s campaign before the state Republican Convention, said that he opposed civil unions and supported Amendment 3 — the Utah constitutional amendment that banned gay marriage in 2004 and which Huntsman also supported. Unlike Huntsman, however, Herbert said he had not met with Equality Utah to discuss the Common Ground Initiative, a long-term plan which seeks to grant basic rights like workplace and housing protections to gay and transgender Utahns.

“I supported Amendment 3, and I’ll just leave it at that,” he told the paper.

Utah’s chapter of the Log Cabin Republicans, a gay and transgender-friendly GOP organization, took a more positive view of Huntsman and his departure.

 “Utah is losing one of the great voices of real conservative values,” said Utah LCR Vice President James Humphreys.  “We at the Utah Log Cabin chapter are grateful for the friendship and partnership he has shown us in his capacity as governor. We know that our loss is the nation’s gain and our relationship with China will be better for his service. We hope that incoming Governor Herbert will be every bit our friend and partner as Jon Huntsman has been.”

“There is no question that we will miss his support and counsel, but we wish him the best in his new position,” added Melvin Nimer, the chapter’s president. “The Governor has shown to us, and to the entire Republican community, that not all Republicans feel that GLBT citizens deserve second-class treatment. His support of the Common Ground Initiatives and same-sex civil unions has renewed our hope in the GOP.”

Will Carlson, Equality Utah’s Manager of Public Policy, said that Huntsman’s legacy lay in making it easier for his party members to support gay and transgender rights.

“Jon Huntsman was a pioneer in saying that you can be a conservative Republican and still stand up for basic rights for all Utahns, and that’s going to make it a lot easier for Gary Herbert or any other Republican to say, regardless of where I stand on the political spectrum, equal rights is something that I can stand behind,” he told radio station KCPW.

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