Who will Pass Ordinance Number 10?

As 2010 draws to a close, nine Utah cities and counties have enacted ordinances to protect citizens from housing and employment discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Before New Year’s Day, Equality Utah would like to see at least one more join their number.

According to Brandie Balken, executive director of the gay and transgender rights group, Equality Utah’s staff is still talking about these ordinances with a number of municipal governments, including the city councils of Torrey, Sandy, Ogden and Cedar City (which declined the ordinances last month), as well as the Grand and Weber County’s councils.

To date, ordinances have been passed in Salt Lake City, Salt Lake County, Summit County, Park City, Logan, West Valley City and Taylorsville. Murray and Moab joined their ranks early last month.

Balken said that she is hopeful that Grand County may become the 10th government to pass the ordinances, thus making Equality Utah’s goal of getting 10 cities and counties on board a reality. The council is scheduled to present the ordinances on Dec. 7 with a vote “likely on the 21st,” she said. Balken added that the timing of Grand County’s vote is crucial because Bob Greenberg, a councilmember who favors the ordinances, will be leaving in January, when his term ends.

“There are … visibility benefits for Grand County being the 10th in 10 with regards to tourism and publicity,” she said, referring to the county’s several attractions, which include Arches and Canyonlands National Parks.

Torrey has long been home to a number of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender-friendly events, including the annual Red Rock Women’s Music Festival, held each August. There, said Balken, members of the local community were still “working on getting public input and buy-in,” as is the case in Sandy and particularly Cedar City, where Southern Utah University’s queer-straight alliance has worked hard to educate residents and councilmembers about the necessity of having such ordinances.

Another city where progress on passing the measures has stalled in recent months is Ogden. In spring, the council put the ordinances aside to focus on budgeting matters. It has yet to revisit them.

“The Ogden council has always had a majority of support,” said Balken. “There has been a lot of resident input and private discussion which moved the discussion to a more actionable place.” While noting that the council could bring the ordinances up at its Dec. 14 meeting, Balken was quick to say that this possibility “hasn’t been confirmed.”

The end of the year also means that the 2011 general legislative session will be opening soon (the State Legislature typically comes to order in late January). Balken said that Equality Utah is ready to go into it.

“Equality Utah is focused on working with our endorsed candidates, and other elected officials to build support for workplace and housing [ordinances to protect gay and transgender people], adoption [rights for same-sex couples] and legislation preventing bullying in schools. As always, we are working to develop strategies to make the legislative session successful: to protect work we have already done and to provide further protections for LGBT people and their families.”

Balken added that one potentially negative challenge in the new session would be the return of LaVar Christensen to House District 48’s seat. Christensen, R-Sandy, has been a staunch opponent of gay and transgender rights for years and drafted Utah’s law against same-sex couples adopting children and its constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.

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