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People of the Decade: Jenny Wilson

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Of course, Utah’s queer population has advocates outside of Salt Lake City. One of the most notable is Salt Lake County Councilwoman Jenny Wilson, who has spent much of her tenure — and much of 2009 — making life easier for the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender residents of Magna, Copperton, Kearns, the Millcreek Township and all of the smaller unincorporated areas that make up Salt Lake County.

Like Seed and Love, Wilson said that gay and transgender rights has been something she has fought for since an early age.

“[Discrimination against gay and transgender people] has always bothered me, so I think I came to office with an interest in creating a fairer system,” she said. “I came in thinking I may not be able to do it all but I could at least do something.”

In her time in office, Wilson has actually done several somethings. After two years of fighting to extend Salt Lake City-style adult designee benefits to county employees, Wilson was victorious on Feb. 17 when the Democratic majority council voted 6–3 (with one Republican vote) in favor of the resolution.

Before it passed, Wilson said she was frustrated that the county wasn’t offering equal protections to its employees, despite having forbidden employment discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in the 1990s.

This December, Wilson has also found herself on the cusp of another shift in Salt Lake County policy. A few weeks before Christmas, the council voted unanimously and without fanfare to enact a housing and employment nondiscrimination ordinance similar to the ones Salt Lake City passed in November. Although the council must vote on the ordinance again in January before it can pass, Wilson said that she is optimistic that it will become law in February — two months before the city’s ordinances go into effect.

“I think we’ve come a long way in the state of Utah and clearly in Salt Lake County over the last decade and I’m happy to be a part of it,” she said. “I think anyone who has either come out because they feel it’s the right time or who has joined in to support [has helped us get here]. It’s all mattering, it’s all adding up. There is no one action in this movement that is going to be revolutionary. It’s going to be a series of little steps along the way.”

Sadly, some of those little steps will be taken without her to guide them. This month, Wilson announced that she will not seek re-election in 2010; her term of service will come to end roughly a year from now.

“I really feel like my career is moving me toward something that is a little more structured,” said Wilson. “The legislative role I’ve had at the county has been very interesting and enlightening and great in personal development, but I miss the days when I put on the suit and went out the door and put in a day’s work.”

But she insisted that the march toward full equality for Utah’s gay and transgender people would go forward, no matter who occupies the seats on the state’s municipal governments.

“This is really a collective effort. I really do believe we’re seeing progress,” she said. “If you look back at other civil rights movements, [you’ll know] there’s going to be challenges along the way, and sometimes we’ll be frustrated. But I think we need to celebrate the successes.”

Michael Aaron

Michael Aaron is the editor and publisher of QSaltLake. He has been active in Utah's gay and lesbian community since the early 80s and published two publications then and in the 90s.

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