Rep. Christine Johnson and Sen. Howard Stephenson recently announced a truce that would effectively table any legislation about gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender in the Utah Legislature’s 2010 general session. Theoretically these issues, including the Salt Lake City antidiscrimination housing and employment ordinances, would be studied by an interim committee that would then report to the 2011 general session. My question is this: What exactly are we studying? Do we really need a committee to tell us that all people deserve equal treatment and equal protection under the law?
On one level, I can understand why Rep. Johnson made the “truce.” If our elected bigots in Utah’s GOP can be held to it, the truce will prevent the State Legislature from overturning Salt Lake City’s ordinances, and leave the door open for other cities and counties that are currently considering similar action. On its own, that is a laudable goal.
However, as with anything else in this world, one single act cannot be looked at in a vacuum.Effectively tabling consideration of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender issues at the 2010 general session creates other problems.
The first thing to consider is that real change will only happen in Utah when our elected employees are forced to see the necessity of it. Putting these issues on the table (or under the rug, as the case may be) will only serve to push them out of the minds of the people and set back any gains that have been made in public recognition and public awareness of the problems gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people face. Those setbacks could result in a much greater delay in any real action on our issues.
There is also undoubtedly a risk that, should this truce fall apart, the Legislature will attempt to overturn Salt Lake City’s ordinances and prohibit other municipal governments from providing similar protections. On the other hand, the one year delay could very well result in a new governor being elected, one who has already demonstrated his support for equality. This new governor could then veto any such ridiculous legislation.
But I still must say that the single most important thing in the struggle for equality in this state and this nation is constant pressure on our elected officials. These issues need to be at the forefront of every legislative session. Every single elected official in this state needs to cast a vote up or down, and be held accountable to his or her electorate for that vote. There will be steps forward, and there will be steps backward. That is the nature of politics and the nature of humanity. But only continued focus and continued pressure will create the understanding that will lead to change.
Tabling the issue for now is certainly a politically expedient move. It takes pressure off the bigots and provides temporary protection for the gains that have been made in other areas. The cost of that protection, though, is way too high. In order for change to happen, the pressure must be maintained, and the struggle must be continued.