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Will Cedar City Be Next to Pass Gay Ordinance?

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So far, seven Utah municipalities have passed ordinances protecting residents from job discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

With less than four months of 2010 left, Equality Utah is hoping that at least three more will join their ranks.

Currently, the gay and transgender rights group has approached mayors and city councils around the state about the ordinances, which Salt Lake City first approved in 2009. The discussion is especially developing in Holladay, Ogden and Cedar City, said executive director Brandie Balken.

Although Equality Utah’s staff discussed the ordinances with the Ogden City Council earlier this year, the body voted to put off considering them until they had dealt with pressing budgeting concerns. Balken said that she hopes to meet with Mayor Matthew R. Godfrey in mid-September.

Meanwhile, Holladay’s city council discussed whether or not to move forward on the ordinances during a Sept. 2 work meeting. Here, Councilman Barry Topham touched off controversy by saying that he didn’t know why the council was discussing this “can of worms” issue.

“I think you should be able to discriminate if you don’t want a cross-dresser living in your house,” he said in the meeting. His remarks prompted Councilman Jim Palmer to call Topham’s position discriminatory and in violation of “the equal-protection clause of the Constitution that we’ve all sworn to uphold.”

Balken said that Equality Utah is encouraging Holladay residents to contact their councilmembers and let them know they support passing these ordinances.

“I think in some cases it’s good for people to express their deeply held opinion. It gives us an opportunity to discuss what those concerns are,” said Balken of Topham’s remarks. “We’ve got some outreach to do.”

Out of all three cities, progress is happening the fastest in Cedar City, where Equality Utah has been working closely with Southern Utah University’s Queer-Straight Alliance to educate residents about the protections the ordinances offer.  Along with speaking to Mayor Joe Burgess, the organization held a series of three public meetings about the proposed measures at the mayor’s request.

“We got on the radio, we got fliers out, we papered the town in an attempt to get as many people from as many backgrounds as possible to come and talk about the ordinances because no one wants to pass something they don’t understand,” said Benjamin King Smith, QSA President. “We’ve had a lot of people who have come to them wanting to know if they’ll be protected. It’s nice to have these conversations.”

The council and mayor, said Smith, gave QSA positive feedback about the meetings and are planning to discuss the ordinances throughout October. On Oct. 6, QSA members will ask the council, mayor and city manager to draft the ordinances during the body’s weekly meeting, and the body will vote on whether or not to do so. A council discussion of the ordinance will follow. Before the end of the month, Smith said the council will likely vote on whether or not to accept the ordinances.

“There will be another vote after that, but if they pass the first vote, it’s pretty much guaranteed,” he said.

Following this meeting, said Balken, Cedar City residents will be able to weigh in on the ordinances, and then the council will vote on whether or not to pass them.

“We think it’s likely we’ll have a vote in Cedar City before the end of October,” she said.

The meetings will take place on Oct. 6, 13, 20 and 27.

To date, Salt Lake City, Salt Lake County, Park City, Summit County, West Valley City, Logan and Taylorsville have passed the measures, which impose fines against businesses with 15 or more employees and landlords renting at least four units who discriminate against gay and transgender people. Religious organizations are exempt.

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