Equality Utah Gears Up for 2010 with Jazz Brunch

The state’s largest gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender rights group will ring in another year of fighting for equality with its annual Jazz Brunch on Jan. 10.

Unlike the more formal Allies Dinner held later in the year, the Jazz Brunch is an opportunity for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Utahns and their friends, families and allies to get information about Equality Utah’s work and its plans for the coming year, said Brandie Balken, the organization’s Executive Director. The money from tickets and donations, she said, will contribute to Equality Utah’s operating funds for its work during the upcoming general legislative session, which will open Jan. 25.

“And it never hurts that there are mimosas,” she added, noting that the popular alcoholic beverage will be just one of the cocktails served at the brunch.

The informal event will feature former State Sen. Scott McCoy as a guest, Utah’s first and so far only openly gay senator. McCoy resigned from his post last month and delegates elected Ben McAdams — one of Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker’s aides — to his post shortly before Christmas.

“It’ll be an opportunity for people to honor his [McCoy’s] work and to ask him about his decision and where he’s going next,” said Balken. “I think a lot of people in the community were taken by surprise by his resignation, so it’s always good for people to hear [why] from the source.”

Equality Utah will also unveil some of its plans for the coming year at the brunch, including its ongoing campaign to work with municipal governments to pass such things as gay and transgender-inclusive housing and workplace nondiscrimination laws. In November of last year, Salt Lake City passed two such ordinances, and Salt Lake County and Park City are poised to pass identical ordinances this month.

According to Balken, Equality Utah is in talks with several municipalities and city governments about similar ordinances. Along with its usual lobbyist and delegate training Equality Utah, she added, is also working on building grassroots action teams in areas outside of Salt Lake Valley and broadening its training programs to train fair-minded Utahns about getting involved in the political process “beyond being a delegate and going to lobby a legislator.”

This new program, said Balken, will be discussed in more detail at the brunch.

“I think it’s just looking at how you can build an effective grassroots movement and engage more of the population,” she said, noting that some people may be uncomfortable with the idea of talking to a lawmaker, or unable to do so for a variety of reasons.

But, “having a conversation with your coworkers or a neighbor is a form of grassroots activism, and [when these happen], I think it will help people see the human face of why these policies and changes are important,” she said. “A lot of positive municipal decision can be made if we can start to empower people to have these conversations. It then becomes easier to have those conversations down the road.”

“Equality Utah believes there’s a way for everybody to plug into the political system and that one model doesn’t fit for everyone,” she added.

Equality Utah will also discuss some legislation that will appear on Capitol Hill this year, including a bill by Rep. Christine Johnson, D-Salt Lake City, that seeks to extend statewide housing and workplace protections to people of all sexual orientations and gender identities. Johnson introduced this bill in 2008 and ran it again in 2009 as part of Equality Utah’s Common Ground Initiative, a set of four gay rights bills, all of which died in committees before reaching debate on the Senate and House floors.

“We’ve had a lot of signs pointing to the fact that we might have a more receptive mood on the Hill [for this bill],” said Balken.

The brunch will be held Jan. 10 from 11 a.m.–2 p.m. at Pierpont Place, 163 West Pierpont. Tickets are $40 and include a yearlong Equality Utah membership. The Joe Muscolino Band will be providing the jazz music and refreshments will be provided by Pierpont Place. Along with mimosas, the list of alcoholic drinks will include bloody marys and poinsettias — a mimosa mixed with cranberry juice.

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