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Equality Utah: Brunch and all that jazz

To celebrate its 10th anniversary, Equality Utah will be holding a number of exciting events throughout the year. The first of these will be its annual Jazz Brunch on Jan. 16. And while the music will be just as hot and the drinks just as cool as in years past, Equality Utah’s staff has planned a few surprises for this year’s celebration.

Rather than the usual roster of speakers (who are typically gay or gay-friendly politicians and community leaders), this brunch will include the world premiere of a short play by Plan-B Theatre Company’s resident playwright Matthew Ivan Bennett. Titled This Is Now, the piece was commissioned to celebrate the statewide gay and transgender rights group’s first decade of working for a fair and just Utah.

Unlike the more formal Allies Dinner held later in the year, the Jazz Brunch is an opportunity for gay, lesbian, bisex­ual and transgender Utahns and their friends, families and allies to get in­formation about Equality Utah’s work and its plans for the year, said Brandie Balken, the organization’s executive director. The money from tickets and donations, she said, will contribute to Equality Utah’s operating funds for the upcoming general legislative session, which opens Jan. 24.

Although the Jazz Brunch has typically included speakers, the only person scheduled to address attendees this year is Balken herself. As in 2010 she will be unveiling some of Equality Utah’s legislative strategy for the coming year.

“We are focused on [passing a statewide] workplace and housing [ordinance]” that includes sexual orientation and gender identity, said Balken. “And if it doesn’t pass statewide this year, we will absolutely continue our municipal strategy.”

The strategy to which Balken referred wa used by Equality Utah in 2010 to get 10 municipal governments to pass local ordinances that added sexual orientation and gender identity to housing and employment nondiscrimination laws. Municipal bodies that passed these laws in 2009 and 2010 include: Grand County, Logan, Murray, Moab, Park City, Salt Lake City, Salt Lake County, Summit County, Taylorsville and West Valley City. In recent months, Balken has told QSaltLake that talks about such ordinances are ongoing in cities including Cedar City, Ogden and Sandy.

In addition to pursuing a statewide ordinance, Balken said that Equality Utah would be “working on amending bullying and hazing law” in the state to cover public school students who identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender.

“And if that doesn’t pass, we will start a district push,” said Balken.

Late last year, the Salt Lake City School District became the first in the state to include sexual orientation and gender identity in its anti-bullying code.

Along with working with Rep. Rebecca Chavez-Houck, D-Salt Lake City, on passing a bill that would allow same-sex couples to adopt children, Balken said that Equality Utah will also hold two “direct lobby days” during the session. Like the organization’s trainings in the past, these include information on how to approach legislators when they are in session this winter.

The brunch will be held Jan. 16, 11 a.m.–1 p.m. at The Loft at Squatters Pub, 147 West Broadway, 300 South. The premiere of This Is Now will be held at 1:30 p.m. across the street at the Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center, 138 W. Broadway. Tickets are $40 and can be reserved online at equalityutah.org or by calling 801-355-3479 by Jan. 10. The Joe Muscolino Band will provide jazz music.

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