West Valley City became the fifth Utah municipality to pass protections in employment and housing on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity on June 2. Mayor Mike Winder, who championed the measures, signed the ordinances into law in a ceremony on June 8.
The ordinances mirrored Salt Lake City’s, passed in November, 2009. State lawmakers have warned municipalities not to consider broadening the effect of ordinances they pass to go beyond Salt Lake City’s scope or they would bring legislation outlawing them. Salt Lake City’s laws, and all other ordinances passed, contain exemptions for small businesses, landlords owning four or less units and owner-occupied buildings.
Salt Lake County, Park City and Logan have also passed similar ordinances in the past six months.
Equality Utah is hoping at least 10 Utah communities will have such protections by the end of the year, in a campaign they are calling “10 in ’10” and “Communities for Common Ground.”
According to the Human Rights Campaign, at least 132 cities and counties in the U.S. provide protections on the basis of gender identity in public and private employment as of June 3 of this year. Most had been adopted in this century, while the earliest ordinance was passed by Minneapolis, Minn. in 1975.
California, Colorado, District of Columbia, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Minnesota, New Jersey , New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island and Vermont.have protections written in state law on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identiy. Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York and Wisconsin have laws covering sexual orientation.
Executive director Brandie Balken was first to address the West Valley City Council in an open public forum before the vote, saying the city has a “rich and diverse population.”
“People have fear of reporting discrimination because there are no protections for them and they feel they may be stigmatized,” she said. “If even one case of discrimination is happening in West Valley City, I think that’s too many.”
Everyone who spoke before the Council was in favor of the ordinances.
“I personally believe that passing these ordinances sends a signal that West Valley City treats everyone equally and fairly.” Todd Olsen, of Anderson Investment Corp, said. “This will bring businesses and growth to the area.”
Many speakers took pride in the city’s diverse population and took state lawmakers to task for not leading the fight against discrimination in Utah.
“West Valley City is the most diverse city in Utah. I know this to be true. I taught for Granite School District for 30 years,” said Stacia Ireland. “It is important because diversity is not just in skin color. We are also tax-paying citizens.”
Rep. Janice Fisher, whose district mostly lies within West Valley City’s boundaries, echoed the positive sentiments of the eight speakers preceding her.
“I would just like to say ‘amen’ to all the comments tonight,” she said.
One councilmember, however, bristled at the ordinances. Russ Brooks, who is the longest-sitting member of the Council, said he felt the city was being bullied into passing the measures.
“For the past 14 years this issue has never been brought up,” he said. “Not until Salt Lake City passed their ordinance [was this an issue].”
“It bothers me that we have to be like our big sister, Salt Lake City, like Logan. I think we are being forced into doing this,” he continued. “I’ve never had anyone come to me saying they couldn’t buy a home. We as a government are gonna tell you as business owners and landlords what you are gonna do.”
The remaining five councilmembers spoke in favor of the ordinances, many addressing Brooks’ comments.
“We have had to pull our heads out of the sand a bit and that is not something I like to admit,” said Councilmember Corey Rushton. “When history looks back on this, they will ask why West Valley City took so long to do it. I hope that one day our grandchildren will look back on this and will laugh at the antiquated law.”
“I think it is unfortunate that we have to legislation niceness,” said Councilmember Steve Vincent. “You would hope that people would do the right thing in their hearts. We need to make sure people are treated fairly.”
“It is a privilege and an honor to step forward and lead the way,” said Councilmember Donald Christensen. “When the state or federal government does not act, the city can still send a message and do what we feel is best. Every councilmember has an obligation to represent his constituents, but also his conscience.”
Mayor Mike Winder approached Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker shortly after he was elected, expressing interest in passing the ordinances.
I am very grateful for Ralph Becker for leading the way on these ordinances,” he said. “The beauty of different cities and towns is that each can be incubators of good policy that spreads throughout the state.”
“Wouldn’t it be great to do this becasue it is the right thing to do?” he asked. “I’m proud that it was this city council that originated [these ordinances]. In my heart, this is the right thing to do. I ‘m proud to be part of a city that will push this forward.”
“We should all have the right to apply for a job and win that job or lose it because of what we bring to the table,” he continued.
“I may not agree with your lifestyle and the tendencies you were born with and how you act on them,” he said. “But it is part of virtue that we should do unto others as we would have others do unto us.”
The council voted 5-1 to pass both ordinances. Brooks’ nay vote was the first vote cast against any of the nondiscrimination measures in any of the five municipalities that have passed them.
Equality Utah leaders have talked to officials in eight other cities and counties about passing similar ordinances. Leaders in Taylorsville, Moab, Torrey, Cedar City and Ogden as well as Summit, Grand and Weber counties have expressed interest in such ordinances, Balken said.
Equality Utah is soliciting $10 donations from supporters to help defray costs of traveling to the various areas. Donations can be made online at tinyurl.com/tenfor10.