4 gay Utahns vying for vacant state senate seat

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Four gay Utahns have announced plans to run for a soon-to-be vacant state senate seat. Sen. Ben McAdams is currently representing Senate District 2, but shortly after winning the bid for Salt Lake County Mayor, Utah Democratic Party Chair Jim Dabakis, Rep. Brian Doughty, Will Carlson and Weston Clark, all openly gay men, announced plans to replace McAdams.

Currently, there are no openly gay Utah legislators who will be going to the 2013 session in January. Doughty, who is representing House District 30 until January, lost an intraparty race after his district was combined with a neighboring district. The replacement for Senate District 2 will be decided by Democratic delegates. No date for the election has been set and as of press time McAdams has not officially resigned. Other candidates include former Salt Lake County Councilwoman Jenny Wilson and outgoing Salt Lake County Mayor Peter Corroon.

All four gay men are experienced in Utah politics and they all agree it is important to have a representative of Utah’s gay community in the legislature.

Dabakis is a well-known figure in Utah’s queer community. He helped launch the Utah Pride Center and Equality Utah. He made history when he became the first openly gay man to lead a major party in the state. He’s been a staunch defender of the Democratic Party and has spoken out against what he called the unfair redistricting of Utah’s congressional districts.

He said he decided to run to ensure there were role models for LGBT youth and to represent the many Democratic Utahns who struggle to find a voice and representation.

“I have lived most of my adult life in the area of the district. Senate District 2 is a sacred seat because it is one of the very few seats that is safe for Democrats.  It carries with it a solemn duty to represent both the people of the district and the other 42 percent of the state that simply have no voice. I aspire to boldly be that voice,” Dabakis said. “It is no secret to anyone that I am a proud member of the LGBT community. I see the senate as a place to make good policy and give voice to all the people of the district, of course, including the LGBT community. It is imperative that our young people have role models to look up to. For them to realize that for LGBT young people, no aspiration is too high nor dream out of reach.”

After losing the bid for Democratic nomination to continue in Utah’s House of Representatives, Doughty hinted that he was not finished representing Utah. The business owner and entrepreneur sponsored important queer-rights legislation last session, including a bill that would have allowed state employees to designate a domestic partner for employee health insurance. While the bill was not passed, Doughty represented the LGBT community in a very Republican legislature.

Doughty said he decided to run to continue the work he’s already started by serving on a committee implementing the Affordable Care Act, advancing a statewide nondiscrimination ordinance and pursuing more reasonable liquor regulations.

“I feel it is important to have someone from the LGBT community at the legislature when we are discussing non-discrimination policy, equitable health insurance policy and to be a voice for any legislation that comes up that could be detrimental to the LGBT community. I have been able to have discussions with my Republican colleagues over the past year and half about why nondiscrimination policy is important for the LGBT community and for our state from a business point of view,” Doughty said. “I would like to continue those back room discussions in hopes that we can pass a statewide policy of nondiscrimination in workplace and housing for the LGBT community.”

Carlson is no stranger to Utah politics and helped launch Equality Utah’s Common Ground Initiative in the wake of California’s Proposition 8. He’s championed causes such as nondiscrimination and preventing bullying in Utah’s schools.

Carlson said he’s running because of concerns over the environment, incarceration and crime reform and issues of equality.

“On issues of LGBT equality, I sought out the original sponsors of much of the legislation that has been considered on Capitol Hill, including adoption and nondiscrimination. If elected, I’ll focus not only on issues where LGBT Utahns experience discriminatory treatment, but also discriminatory impacts, such as health care, low income housing and an unfair tax code,” Carlson said. “As a gay man I think it’s vital that there be out LGBT people in the legislature. We have some amazing allies, but anyone who is not LGBT cannot completely understand the isolation and risks of coming out in a hetero-centric cisgender world. This unifying experience gives LGBT people a deeper understanding and empathy for all of those in society who are marginalized and reviled. And our legislature could use a lot more empathy.”

Clark is a former Democratic Party county chair and high school teacher. He was an adviser to the Ben McAdams for Mayor Campaign. He’s also a queer-rights activist. He is now a work-from-home dad where he and his partner are raising their son, Xander.

Clark said that if elected, he would work on public education, banning puppy mills and working toward LGBT equality.

“More than 70percent of Utahns are in favor of recognition of LGBT relationships, with a smaller but important segment favoring marriage rights. I’d like to sponsor legislation that would repeal the part of Amendment 3 which bans any recognition of same-sex relationships such as civil unions,” Clark said. “As we encourage members of the community to ‘come out’ to change minds and hearts on our issues, I think having a legislator from the LGBT community in that position amplifies the effect. That being said, I do not feel it is appropriate to vote for someone simply because of that issue. In this Senate District 2 race, I think we are lucky to have many qualified LGBT candidates running and all deserve consideration.”

Election dates and results will be announced on qsaltlake.com.

Seth Bracken

Seth Bracken is the editor of QSaltLake

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  1. James Dabakis knows how to get things done…good for the community, good for district 2, and good for Utah

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