So far, three Utah municipal governments — Salt Lake City, Salt Lake County and Park City — have enacted ordinances that protect gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people from housing and employment discrimination. A bevy of other cities and counties are also in the process of considering such ordinances.
And now, Equality Utah has taken its fight for gay and transgender-inclusive employment and housing laws to two more Utah cities: Sandy and Logan.
On May 5, three employees of the statewide gay and transgender rights group held a meeting at the Sandy Library for residents of the highly conservative city, eight of whom assembled in the library’s small conference room to discuss the basics of the ordinances and Equality Utah’s progress with the seven-member Sandy City Council.
“We had a meeting with the mayor [Tom Dolan] and it went fairly well, I would say,” said Manager of Field Operations Lauren Littlefield. “But like most city councils, they need to hear that the constituents of Sandy want these policies.”
“The messages we’re trying to use with council members are all positive,” she continued. “We just talk about what the ordinances do: They protect all Utahns because all Utahns should have right to keep a job and roof over their heads.”
The ordinances passed by Salt Lake City, Salt Lake County and Park City are identical. Each exempts religious organizations, businesses of 15 or fewer employees and landlords with fewer than four units for rent. Fines are assessed for violators.
So far, Littlefield said that two Sandy councilmembers supported extending the protections to gay and transgender residents: Linda Martinez Saville and Scott Cowdell.
Both councilmembers also support allowing city employees to extend their healthcare benefits to a non-spousal adult with whom they live, including a parent or same-sex partner. Last year, they asked the council to look into the costs of such a policy.
Salt Lake City and County also offer this option to employees.
Once the councilmembers draft the ordinances, Littlefield said that supporters would be needed to “pack the council chambers” for the ordinances’ public hearing and to testify “even if you just go in to say, ‘Hi, I live in Sandy and I think this would be awesome.’”
In the meantime, she encouraged those in attendance to write to the council, particularly if they lived in districts overseen by Bryant Anderson (District 3), Chris McCandless (District 4) and Dennis Tenney (District 2). Steve Fairbanks and Stephen P. Smith are at-large members. This is particularly important, Littlefield added, because “more than likely there are people who will speak against it,” such as Paul Mero, President of Thee Sutherland Institute, a neoconservative think tank that has opposed all recent gay and transgender rights bills and ordinances. (Mero, Littlefield noted, lives in Tenney’s district).
Littlefield and Manager of Programs & Administration Keri Jones then fielded questions from the audience, which ranged from the number of U.S. cities and states with similar ordinances to whether Equality Utah had received any reports of anti-gay or anti-transgender discrimination in Sandy.
“We have a lot of stories of folks who have been discriminated against, but we haven’t had someone in Sandy come forward yet,” said Littlefield.
“There’s no way to track it because there’s nothing you can do,” Jones added. “We get calls all the time from people who feel they’ve been fired or kicked out [of a job or apartment] for being gay or perceived to be gay, but we’ll literally say call the Labor Commission or the ACLU if you think you have a case, but there’s nothing we can do.”
Currently, Utah law does not include sexual orientation or gender identity in its Antidiscrimination Act, which covers housing and employment discrimination.
Both women encouraged anyone with a story of discrimination in Sandy to fill out the survey on the group’s website, equalityutah.org. The anonymous form, they said, is the best way they have now to track cases of discrimination across the state.
Meanwhile, a proposal for a Salt Lake City-style ordinance was on the schedule for Logan’s May 4 City Council meeting. However, the council voted 3-2 to table the bill, sponsored by Councilman Herm Olsen and backed by Councilma Jay Monson, until August. The council also voted not to hold a public meeting about the ordinances.
“Councilman [Dean] Quayle and others argued they did not feel this [anti-gay and anti-transgender housing and employment discrimination] was an issue and that they were not aware anyone had contacted them with concerns over these issues (despite my own personal contacts multiple times since last fall with each councilmember),” wrote Isaac Higham, who has spearheaded the push for Logan ordinances, on Equality Utah’s Facebook page.
Higham urged supporters of the ordinances to contact Logan’s City Councilmembers to “give them public input” about the importance of gay and transgender-inclusive housing and employment protections. Members who voted to table the ordinances were Hollie Danes, Loraine Swenson and Dean Quayle.
“Write about your own stories of discrimination,” Higham wrote. “Write about how wrong they are to assume the state legislature [sic] will handle this. Write about your support for equal protection in housing and employment if you are an ally.”
“[Ordinance supporters in Logan] said there were about 25-30 people who all left upset because they wanted to speak to [the ordinances],” said Jones. “But that’s how it happens sometimes, and this gives this more time to get the votes.” She added that the council might also be waiting to get “more input from other cities who have enacted the ordinances.”
Jones said that Equality Utah is “tentatively planning a community meeting” in Logan for June 15.
At present, West Valley City and Summit County are expecting to pass gay and transgender-inclusive housing and employment ordinances this Month. Meanwhile, Holladay, Taylorsville, Ogden, Moab and Summit County are in various stages of considering, drafting or passing ordinances similar to Salt Lake City’s. Equality Utah is also discussing the policies with Murray and Midvale’s city councils.
Sandy City’s website does not list contact information for individual city councilmembers. However, the contact number for the council itself is 801-568-7141, and messages can also be sent through the site at sandy.utah.gov (click the city councilmembers link in the lefthand menu).
Contact information for Logan’s city councilmembers is as follows:
Dean W. Quayle
Jay A Monson