More than 100 queer rights activists rallied at the State Capitol on Feb. 29, voicing frustration over the inaction of the Utah Legislature concerning queer rights, including tabling the statewide nondiscrimination ordinance.
The rally, organized by a group called Human Dignity Utah, shout out the legislators by name who voted to table the nondiscrimination bill that was moved into committee earlier this session.
“It is absolutely ridiculous that we can’t even have a discussion on these issues in this state,” said Weston Clark, a co-organizer of the rally. “Enough is enough… We’re here to start applying just a little more pressure on these people.”
The protestors promised to use their frustration and attend party caucuses in March and turn out in greater numbers to vote in November. Democratic Sen. Ben McAdams, sponsor of the bill, said the protections would eventually be passed and the fight for equality in the state will continue.
“I’m proud to be part of the 72 percent of Utah that supports statewide nondiscrimination,” said McAdams. “This is a wave that is crashing on the capitol of Utah and this is just the beginning of the wave. This wave will continue to beat against the walls until statewide nondiscrimination is passed.”
Not only is it a human-rights issue, but also a business issue, said Democratic Party Chairman Jim Dabakis. Large employers in Utah, including Adobe, eBay Inc. and 1-800-Contacts are all demanding that Utah lawmakers expand protections for its queer citizens, he said.
“Utah was the last state in the country, shamefully, to approve the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday. We cannot allow that to happen with fairness and equality in housing and employment,” Dabakis said. “The simple message to send is just look at the facts, get over your fear and, legislators, do what’s right.”
Activists are feeling frustrated with the condescending nature of the way they have been treated in committee hearings and by some conservative legislators, said rally speaker and local actor Sister Dottie Dixon.
“Utah is on the front line of equal rights and that battle,” said Sister Dottie. “We are fed up. We are tired of being ignored, politely dismissed, relegated to second-class citizens, or most, and worst of all, heard and then tabled.”
This year, the bill was brought to a Senate Committee for the first time, but was tabled by a 4-2 vote. This came in spite of a Republican co-sponsor of the bill and growing statewide support for the measure.
However, Utah Eagle Forum president Gayle Ruzicka and others said it did not go far enough to protect religious liberties and said there should be an exemption to the law that would allow people to discriminate based on their religious beliefs.
“We need to stop the bullying that is happening against the LGBT community and this bullying is coming from the biggest bunch of bullies in the state,” said Sister Dottie. “Today we’re recommitted, we’re re-inspired, we’re reignited to take back our own power and make change happen in a big way.”
This is the fifth time that Utah lawmakers have blocked proposals to ban discrimination in housing and employment based on sexual orientation and gender identity. This year’s defeat in committee stung particularly hard because of recent polling that indicates more than 70 percent of Utahns support the measure. Also, other major organizations and corporations, including the Salt Lake Chamber, came out in public support of the measure and said the lawmaker’s inaction is impacting their business.
Queer-rights activists are concerned about other areas where the Legislature failed to act to protect the citizen’s collective best interest. A bill that would have allowed gay couples and other unmarried partners to co-adopt a child was never even brought before a committee hearing. Currently, adoptive parents must be married in order for both adults to be the legal guardians. Also, a bill that would allow schools to opt-out entirely of teaching sex education courses cleared both the House and Senate. The bill also bans teachers from teaching about condoms unless asked.