The 11th annual Equality Utah Allies Dinner marks a growth spurt of the organization, as well as queer rights in the Beehive State. The dinner, to be held Sept. 27, will attract an estimated 2,000 people, making it the largest indoor lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender event in the Intermountain West.
This year’s honorees include former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman and his wife, Mary Kaye Huntsman.
The event will be historic in size and with its honorees and speakers, said EU Executive Director Brandie Balken.
“This is a historic moment for Utah’s LGBT community, as well as for all residents of our state, as we move closer to making everyone feel welcome and respected. Few elected officials in Utah have done as much to foster civility and understanding as Gov. and Mrs. Huntsman. They are beacons of hope for Utah and the nation. Together with the LDS Church’s 2009 support for anti-discrimination laws, the Huntsman’s efforts bridged increased understanding and support of Utah’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community.”
While serving as governor, Huntsman voiced support for advancing queer equality and even said he would support civil unions for gay couples.
The keynote address will be given by Idaho Sen. Nicole LeFavour, the Democratic nominee running for U.S. Congress. If elected, she will be the second openly lesbian member of Congress. She’s facing off against 12-year incumbent Mike Simpson, a popular and well-liked Republican.
She said she hopes to use her experiences as a state lawmaker for nearly a decade, and Idaho’s first openly lesbian senator.
“I think one of the biggest challenges for me was putting a face on gay people in Idaho,” LeFavour said. “Now that so many more people know gay friends, family members and co-workers, we’ve been trying to change minds on important policy decisions.”
With the poor economy playing a pivotal role in American politics, emphasizing the economic impacts of equality is a key tactic, she said. In addition to attracting jobs from employers who want a welcoming environment for all their employees, having a clear course of action makes for a more productive, and safe, work environment.
If elected to the U.S. House, LeFavour said she would back nondiscrimination efforts, but also sees marriage equality as a bellwether for equality.
“I have pleaded with national organizations not to give up on the marriage fight. It is such an important measure of equality and we may never see legislation come from our own states of Idaho and Utah,” LeFavour said. “We need federal action on so many important equality issues.”
While LeFavour and other national lawmakers focus on fighting for marriage equality, Equality Utah, with the help of personal donors, as well as corporate donors, is continuing efforts to pass a statewide nondiscrimination bill protecting against bias based on sexual orientation and gender identity in housing and the workplace.
One of the corporate sponsors of Equality Utah this year is the genealogy website Ancestry.com. With offices in Orem, Utah, the company has a vested interest in what happens in Utah, said Billy Stern, a company spokesperson as well as a EU board member.
The company was a key part of a business initiative last legislative session when queer rights advocates tried to sway Republican votes by illustrating the potential business impact the nondiscrimination bill could have.
“We’re trying to attract people into this great state,” said Tim Sullivan, president and CEO of Ancestry.com, during a legislative forum. “We do find perceptions outside the state that make it difficult in particular to recruit gay or lesbian employees.”
Ancestry.com is making the decision to support Equality Utah, as it has supported other organizations such as the Human Rights Campaign, not only because it makes business sense, but because it’s the right thing to do, Stern said.
The dinner will be held at the Salt Palace Convention Center on Sept. 27 and tickets are $100. Other speakers and honorees include Trevor Southey, Parents & Friends of Lesbians and Gays and Ogden residents Rev. Theresa Novak and Anne Spatola for their extraordinary efforts in increasing understanding about, and securing equal rights and protections for, LGBT Utahns.
For more information and to purchase tickets, go to equalityutah.org/allies.