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Are Gay, Trans Utahns Using Nondiscrimination Ordinances?

So far this year, nine municipal governments in Utah have passed ordinances forbidding employment and housing discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. While gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and queer Utahns have and continue to face discrimination on these grounds, based not only on numerous testimonies before city and county councils, but on accounts related to QSaltLake since 2008, no media outlet has yet answered how many anti-gay and anti-transgender discrimination complaints have been made so far.

For the most part, that number appears to be small.

Salt Lake City was the first municipal government to mull such ordinances, which Mayor Ralph Becker sought to put into place after a report by the city’s Human Rights Commission revealed that discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity were problems in the city. Since the ordinances were enacted on April 2, however, the city has received only one complaint.

“It actually was one that didn’t fall within our jurisdiction, so we had to dismiss that,” said Melissa green, equal employment opportunities consultant for the city.

“We’ve had a couple, maybe one,” said Angel Pezely, executive assistant to West Valley City Manager Wayne Pyle. The city, the second largest in the state, enacted these nondiscrimination protections in June.

“But we’ve received several that are from other cities,” she added. “They think they’re in West Valley City, but they’re confused. They’re not. We’ve actually had a couple that have been from South Salt Lake or even Salt Lake City, and we just refer them to their city.”

Taylorsville, Logan and Park City administrators and attorneys said that they had received no complaints at all.

“We prepared the complaint forms right out of the gate, so they’re available,” said Kymber Housley, Logan’s city attorney.

“I’m not that surprised,” he added. “Before this ordinance was proposed I’d never heard personally of any allegation of discrimination, though during the public comment process there were those who came forward” to say they had experienced anti-gay and anti-transgender housing and employment discrimination. However, Housely said that several of those commenters had come to the city from the Wasatch Front.

Unlike most municipalities, Taylorsville had a unique process both for approving its ordinances and enforcing them. Before the council could vote, a citizen’s board had to read through and recommend the ordinances. And now that the measures are on the books, said City Administrator John Inch Morgan, the process for making a discrimination complaint works a little differently than in most cities. Taylorsville residents file the complaint in writing with the City Recorder, who notifies both the Mayor and Morgan. The mayor, he said, then appoints a three member panel to mediate. If the panel discovers that discrimination did occur, they contact law enforcement and the city attorney who files charges (like all municipal governments with these ordinances, violators are fined).

Although the City Recorder was out of town at press time, Morgan said that he had not heard of any complaints being filed.

“Their assistants haven’t indicated that anything has been filed, so I can say with some confidence that no complaints have been made,” he said.

Phyllis Robinson, Public Affairs Manager for Park City, said the same thing was true in her city, which enacted these protections in April.

“But when we were first approached with doing the ordinances, [they] weren’t something that jumped out as something we needed to do because of existing issues. But it’s always good to do some additional outreach in letting people know that these ordinances are in place,” she added.

When asked if the dearth of complaints could be related to confusion over how to file a complaint, Green said she wasn’t sure.

“When the ordinances were passed we didn’t know what to expect because this was groundbreaking, and we’re not sure to what extent it [housing and employment discrimination against gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people] was out there,” she said. “But we wanted to make sure a mechanism was in place for issues when they arise.”

While Rebecca Sanchez, Diversity Affairs specialist for Salt Lake County, said that the county, which enacted protections in late 2009, had also not received any discrimination complaints, she added that uncertainty about the process may not be the reason.

“My only hope, because I tend to look at the positive, is that [residents] are reading in the papers that different cities are signing on for [these ordinances] and they’re starting to take check of their own actions and say that’s now the law and I should do what’s right,” she said.

“The really good news is we’re not out to punish anyone but out to educate people,” she added, noting that the city also sits down employers or landlords with the tenants who make a complaint to try and work things out before charges are filed. “We’re making our community a better place, it’s about how can we come together and learn about one another,” she said.

Robert Jasper, Summit County Manager, shared her optimism. “I don’t think we’ve had any referrals to it, and it was certainly out there. In addition to the newspaper we talked about it on our local radio. Hopefully that means there aren’t any such cases.”

Murray and Moab also passed identical nondiscrimination ordinances covering sexual orientation and gender identity in November.

Equality Utah, the statewide gay and transgender rights group that advocated for ordinances in these and other cities have provided the following contact information for residents who need to make a complaint but who don’t know what office or individual to contact.

Salt Lake City
slcgov.com/ndo/
Print out the form(s) at the bottom of the webpage and send them to:
Melissa Green
Salt Lake City Corporation
P.O. Box 145464
Salt Lake City, UT 84114-5464

Salt Lake County
diversity.slco.org/. Go to unlawful discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity on the side bar and fill out the forms

Rebecca Sanchez
801.468.3097
[email protected]

Park City
Assistant City Manager
Michael Kovacs
435.615.5182
[email protected]

Logan

Mayor Randy Watts
435.716.9002
[email protected]

West Valley City
West Valley City Manager
Wayne Pyle
801.963.3220

Summit County
Summit County Manager
Robert Jasper
435.336.3200
[email protected]

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