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Summit County Passes Ordinances

Summit County has become the sixth Utah municipality to pass ordinances that protect gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people from housing and job discrimination.

Although only three of the county’s five coucilmembers were present for the June 16 vote — Sally Elliot, John Hanrahan and David Ure — their unanimous vote was enough to pass the ordinances, said Brandie Balken, executive director of Equality Utah. The statewide gay and transgender rights group has been working with city and county governments to create such protections.

Balken added that the absent councilmembers, Chair Claudia McMullin and Vice Chair Chris Robinson would likely have voted in favor of the ordinances as well.

“I think from sitting in [on previous sessions where the ordinances were discussed] they were positive votes as well,” she said.

Like Salt Lake City’s ordinances, Summit County’s apply to businesses with more than 15 employees and landlord renting four or more units. Violating the ordinances can result in a fine of up to $1,000. Religious organizations are also exempt.

Balken said that this particular victory for gay and transgender Utahns was unique because Summit County is the most rural location yet to pass these ordinances, which are modeled off the ones Salt Lake City passed in 2009.

“Hoytsville, Peoa, Coalville, all of these are very small towns. Summit County isn’t just Park City,” she said. “I think this is a representation of how we’re really making progress in the entirety of the population of Utah.”

Before the council voted, several people spoke in favor of the ordinances’ passage, including Park City resident Melyssa Davidson and Rev. Robert Bussen, the former pastor of St. Mary of the Assumption Church.

“Fr. Bussen spoke about how proud he was to be a resident of Summit County and how proud he was of the work being done and how much it speaks to residents, especially young LGBT people,” said Balken.

During the council’s two public meetings on the ordinances, the held June 2 and 16, Balken said that no residents spoke in opposition.

“But that’s not to say that people didn’t connect with their councilpeople outside of those meetings,” she added.

The five other Utah governments that have passed housing and employment ordinances for gay and transgender citizens are Salt Lake City, Salt Lake County, Park City Logan, West Valley City. Equality Utah hopes to add at least four more to that list by the end of the year.

Balken added that Equality Utah is currently talking with a number of other cities, several of which are located outside of Northern Utah.

“Right now our focus is moving into the south,” she said, noting that a number of public meetings about the ordinances are scheduled in Cedar City, where Southern Utah University’s Queer Student Union is “working pretty hard” to educate the community about the measures. Moab’s mayor has also shown interest in the ordinances, but so far, Balken added, St. George has not.

“Through our initial conversations [with city government] we understand they’ll be more comfortable moving further down the line,” she said.

Meanwhile, a committee of Taylorsville citizens has unanimously approved the ordinances and passed them to the city council for consideration (all ordinances proposed by residents must go through this committee first). Balken said that the council will vote on them as soon as they are done drawing up the city’s budget. Similarly, Equality Utah plans to speak to the Sandy City Council later this summer after its budget is finalized.

Until then, the staff will give a presentation on the ordinances to the Murray City Council on June 24 and is scheduling meetings in Torrey, Grand County and Moab.

“I’m also starting to do a little more work back in Ogden and Weber County,” Balken added, noting that Ogden’s council is also working on budgeting matters.

“One thing that we know is that you need to plant the seed and nourish it. We’re in the nourishment phase with a lot of our municipalities,” she said.

Equality Utah took up the municipal strategy in 2008 when its Common Ground Initiative failed to pass in the State Legislature. The initiative was a series of bills that sought to secure more protections for gay and transgender Utahns, including statewide employment and housing nondiscrimination. A bill to that effect was run in 2008 and 2009 by openly lesbian Rep. Christine Johnson, D-Salt Lake City, and failed both times. In 2010 Johnson and Republican leaders compromised to withdraw both her bill and legislation aimed at striking down Salt Lake City’s ordinances before they could be enacted on April 2.

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