The Straight Line

The value of activism

Politically, 2010 was a pretty good year for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender issues. Proposition 8 was struck down in the first phase of the legal battle against it. Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell was not only ruled unconstitutional in a federal court, but repealed by Congress. Locally, 10 municipalities passed anti-discrimination ordinances that provide employment and housing protections based upon gender identity and sexual orientation.

Looking forward, Sen. Ben McAdams, D-Salt Lake City, has plans to introduce a bill in the upcoming legislative session that would add orientation and gender identity to the state’s housing and employment laws. Utah’s GOP majority, however, has other plans.

In the words of House Speaker-elect Becky Lockhart, R-Provo, to The Salt Lake Tribune: “We have been very resistant in the past to doing anything that might make sexual orientation a protected class. I don’t think it has changed.” Senate President Michael Waddoups, R-Taylorsville, who says he prefers to keep the status quo, indicated that he thinks Sen. McAdams is “running a risk” by bringing up this issue with the Legislature.

What this means is that we all need to be paying very close attention to our legislature this year. We all need to be informed about the issues and get involved.

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

These words, attributed to Margaret Mead, have never been more accurate or more important than they are today. As we start 2011, it is important that we all take a moment to evaluate our beliefs, our priorities and our individual social and political agendas.

Living in Utah, it’s pretty easy to concede that lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer-related issues are always going to be pushed to the sidelines; it’s been that way for years. Senators like Waddoups and Chris Buttars, R-West Jordan, have made careers by pushing a hyper-conservative agenda rife with bigotry and hatred toward a lot of groups. But 2010 gave us a much different picture of the social and political landscape in Utah. Municipal governments all across the state are passing anti-discrimination laws that include gender identity and sexual orientation.

This year the Legislature will most likely be considering McAdams’ bill, and this will cause backlash from the conservatives. If “We The People” don’t stand up, our elected leaders will make these decisions for us. Do you trust them to do the right thing? I don’t.

Now is the time to make the Legislature understand. This is the time for everyone who believes in equality, who supports civil rights for all to become involved, to be a part of that thoughtful, committed citizenry that can change the world.

“Every LGBT citizen and ally has the power and the responsibility to make the change they want. One person willing to get involved is worth 30 silent citizens,” said Eric Ethington of Pride in Utah.

And he’s right. What we’ve seen over the past year emphasizes that Utah’s citizens are recognizing the importance of equality. It’s our legislators who don’t get it. Ethington continues, “Our great state is quickly recognizing the value of treating every citizen as equals, not just the majority. The Legislature must recognize the voices of their constituents or face the consequences.”

But communicating that message is up to you. It’s going to take more than the voices of a few writers and activists. It’s going to take time and energy from everyone who believes in equality. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer people and straight allies alike will need to make their voices heard on Utah’s Capitol Hill this year, not only if we hope to pass statewide protections, but also if we want to prevent the Old Guard from undoing the progress of the past year.

Are you ready to change the world? Ethington is planning a rally for the opening day of the legislative session, which is Jan. 24. For more details about this rally or how you can help during this session, you can e-mail me at [email protected]

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