The future is knocking at Equality Utah

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Earlier this summer, QSaltLake reported the resignation of Brandie Balken as executive director of Equality Utah. Balken, who has led E.U. since 2009, was named as one of the nation’s top leaders of an LGBT organization by Philanthropedia (a division of GuideStar) in 2012 and was QSaltLake’s person of the year in 2010, the same year Equality Utah was named as one of America’s top-10 equality organizations.

The landscape for equality organizations is changing, quickly and dramatically. Most legal experts, including Equality Utah’s board chair, professor of law Clifford Rosky, see the United States Supreme Court taking up the issue of marriage equality and making it the law of the land by this time next year. For many equality organizations and advocates, that prompts the question of “what’s next?” In the wake of Balken’s resignation, that question hits our local community and Equality Utah on two different levels.

This reporter sat down with Rosky and asked that question. His response:  “That’s the big question, for Equality Utah and for the movement nationally.”

“In the post-marriage world,” said Rosky, “the movement is doing some soul-searching.”  He pointed to large differences between the needs of the more liberal states and the more conservative ones, like Utah.  He explained that while marriage is an important step, there is still a great deal of work to be done. Utah still lacks basic statewide employment and housing protections for LGBT citizens, not to mention other non-discrimination protections in public accommodations and other areas of commerce. Rosky continued, “we still have a mission to protect the most vulnerable members of our society.”

With both current and future anticipated needs in mind, the conversation turned to the ongoing search for Balken’s replacement. Currently, board secretary Marina Gomberg  has temporarily stepped down from the board and assumed the role of interim executive director.  The search, according to Rosky, is going very well, but will also be very deliberate. He cited Balken’s dedication and professionalism for leaving Equality Utah prepared for this transition.

“Brandie was a great leader,” said Rosky. “We’re not rushing this process, it’s too important.  This is a critical moment for Equality Utah.  We are standing at the center of the national debate.”

He explained that the search for a new leader is going very well, that both he and the board have been impressed with both the quantity and quality of applications received. “We’re looking for substance over tone,” he added, “someone with a demonstrated record of leadership and community building.”

Rosky added that they are through the initial screening phase of the process and are preparing for the first round of interviews. He indicated that he really didn’t know how long this process would continue, adding that they are going to move diligently and deliberately to find the right person to lead the organization “not just for 2015, but for 2015 to 2025 and beyond.”

That process, he indicated, could include several rounds of interviews depending upon the responses and qualifications of the candidate pool. One thing he stressed was the importance of a new leader who understands, as Balken does, the “full breadth and diversity of the community. Someone who understands and can lead on transgender issues.”

Rosky concluded by adding that Equality Utah will continue with their work on both statewide and municipal protections, and remain committed to creating a future where there is full equality for everyone.

Earlier this summer, QSaltLake spoke with Brandie Balken:  “My service as the executive director of Equality Utah has been the most rewarding and challenging of my life. As a lifelong Utahn it has been extraordinary to witness the astounding change in public opinion, and in public policy,” Balken said. “I am so honored to have had the opportunity to do this work at this amazing time, having benefited from the hard work and sacrifice of my predecessors — and countless others in this incredible community.

“Together we have accomplished some wonderful things. Although I am sad that I will not be here to witness it, I know that Utah will continue to build on its gains in providing fairness, freedom and opportunity for all. I know, with the dedication, commitment and resilience of this community, and the drive and savvy of my colleagues at Equality Utah, the best is yet to come. Get ready Utah, the future is knocking.”

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