Moab, Cedar City and Torrey are just a few of several Utah municipal governments now considering ordinances that would ban housing and job discrimination against gay and transgender residents, according to statewide gay and transgender rights group Equality Utah.
At press time, Taylorsville is poised to become the seventh Utah municipal government to bar housing and employment discrimination against gay and transgender citizens. The city council has scheduled a public input meeting on the ordinances for Aug. 4. Although the council discussed the ordinances this spring, they had to wait for a citizens’ committee to review the proposed laws before acting.
Salt Lake City began the trend last fall, when its city council unanimously approved two separate ordinances prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Along with the capital, Utah governments with ordinances on the books are Salt Lake County, Park City, Logan, West Valley City and Summit County. The laws impose a fine ranging from a few hundred to $1,000 per violation, and exempt landlords renting four or fewer units and businesses with fewer than 15 employees or that are religiously owned.
Equality Utah Executive Director Brandie Balken said that talks are in progress with several Southern Utah municipalities, including Grand County, Cedar City and gay-friendly Torrey, which hosted the now-defunct Southern Utah Pride Festival and is home to the Women’s Redrock Music Festival, a Utah Pride Center-sponsored program held annually in August.
“I’ve met with councilmembers and the mayor and now I’m presenting to the council to take [the ordinances] under advisement,” said Balken of Moab’s local government. “They’ve responded very well.”
As more Northern Utah governments warm to the ordinances, Balken said that Equality Utah will be concentrating its efforts in the south of the state.
“We don’t want this [these protections] to be concentrated in one area. We want to work with communities across the state,” said Balken. “In the last six weeks we’ve been reaching out to people in Southern Utah and getting those conversations rolling so we don’t have everything right along the Wasatch Front.”
“Our population isn’t just in Northern Utah,” she added.
Balken stressed that efforts to pass ordinances were also happening in the western and eastern parts of the state, in cities such as Price and Tooele — though, she added, residents have been leading the charge there.
“One of the things that’s occurred now is I’m getting residents calling me from areas, and I feel, as opposed to this outside force coming in, when residents call me I know we’ve got the constituents’ support,” she said. “We have people who really want to engage in this conversation; talking to their mayors, their councilmembers, their neighbors.”
Conversations are also continuing in Ogden, Weber County, Midvale, Murray, Holladay and Sandy, “though these are all kind of in process,” Balken added. The group has even talked to the mayors of staunchly conservative Provo and Orem at the behest of “residents calling us.”
“The conversations were very respectful and I think the mayors wanted to be clear about the culture of their municipalities,” she said. “We had the opportunity to sit down and show them the ordinances and describe what protections they’d provide for their residents and the importance of those protections. We let them know we’d continue to reach out to their residents and to businessowners and people on the councils. They were more than willing to listen and they were gracious hosts.”
“I think sometimes this is the first time people have engaged in conversations about LGBT people, and it’s important to create open space to have that first conversation,” Balken said. “I think sometimes we may misinterpret people’s actions; the first time we’re approached with something it takes thought. [It’s] giving people the access to language to talk about things they haven’t before.”