2014 in Review

Our annual year in review starts December 20 of last year as U.S. District Court Judge Robert Shelby declared that Utah’s Amendment 3 and other laws that restricted marriage from same-sex couples was unconstitutional. Utah was the first ruled on since the U.S. Supreme Court struck California’s Proposition 8 and parts of the federal Defense of Marriage Act in June, 2013.

“The court agrees with Utah that regulation of marriage has traditionally been the province of the states, and remains so today. But any regulation adopted by a state, whether related to marriage or any other interest, must comply with the Constitution of the United States,” Shelby began. “Applying the law as it is required to do, the court holds that Utah’s prohibition on same-sex marriage conflicts with the United States Constitution’s guarantees of equal protection and due process under the law. The State’s current laws deny its gay and lesbian citizens their fundamental right to marry and, in so doing, demean the dignity of these same-sex couples for no rational reason. Accordingly, the court finds that these laws are unconstitutional.”

The case was brought forth by Utah nonprofit organization Restore Our Humanity and law firm Magleby & Greenwood, representing three same-sex couples in Utah: Derek Kitchen and Moudi Sbeity, Karen Archer and Kate Call, and Laurie Wood and Kody Partridge, naming Gov. Gary Herbert, then-Attorney General John Swallow, and Salt Lake County Clerk Sherrie Swensen.

Marriages immediately began in Salt Lake County as The Queens’ Tea entrepreneur couple Michael Ferguson and J. Seth Anderson. Two marriages also happened in St. George.

The next day, being a Saturday, started off with rumors that Salt Lake, Davis and Weber County Clerks’ offices would open to issue licenses. Davis and Salt Lake were merely rumors, but Weber County Clerk Ricky Hatch had wanted to open, but was shut down for what he called “security reasons.”

The following Monday, most clerks opened their offices to same-sex couples, but Cache County Attorney James Swink closed his office for all business, Box Elder County posted sheriffs at the clerk’s office doors to stop any attempts by same-sex couples to get a marriage license. Sanpete County commissioners held an emergency meeting and shut down their county clerk’s office through Tuesday. Utah County Clerk Bryan Thompson refused to issue licenses to same-sex couples until Dec. 27.


Supreme Court issues stay on Utah same-sex marriages

On January 6, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a stay on Shelby’s decision, closing the 17-day window of same-sex marriages in the state. Newly-sworn Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes declared the legal status of the more than 1,300 same-sex marriages performed in the state as being in “legal limbo.” The Utah Tax Commission ruled that Utah’s legally-married same-sex couples must file separately and use figures from a faux federal form completed as if the couple were legal strangers. United States Attorney General Eric Holder announced the Obama Administration’s intent to ensure that all marriages performed in Utah are recognized equally by the federal government. The Social Security Office, however, refused to accept Utah marriage certificates as identification to allow a name change for most of the year.

Otis Charles dies

Former Utah Episcopal Bishop E. Otis Charles, 87, died at Coming Home Hospice in San Francisco. He had moved to the hospice in early December, after his husband, Felipe Sanchez-Paris, died last August. Charles’ ashes were interred in the Diocese of Utah’s Cathedral Church of St. Mark in Salt Lake City after a ceremony in San Francisco.

LDS Church says no to same-sex temple weddings

The LDS Church found it necessary to issue a statement that they would not allow the performance of same-sex marriages in their churches or by their clergy. “Consistent with our fundamental beliefs, Church officers will not employ their ecclesiastical authority to perform marriages between two people of the same sex, and the Church does not permit its meetinghouses or other properties to be used for ceremonies, receptions, or other activities associated with same-sex marriages. Nevertheless, all visitors are welcome to our chapels and premises so long as they respect our standards of conduct while there.”

Mass wedding reception raises funds for Restore Our Humanity

QSaltLake, Le Croissant Catering and The Rail Event Center held a “Love Elevated: Mass Wedding Reception” for the hundreds of same-sex couples who dropped everything to run to their county clerks’ offices to get married, fearing the window of opportunity would be short. Over 1,500 people attended, raising $25,000 for Restore Our Humanity.

Utahns support nondiscrimination laws

In a poll released by The Salt Lake Tribune, 60 percent of Utahns surveyed supported a statewide law that would prohibit discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender citizens in the workplace and 59 percent support protections in the housing market. Only 35 and 36 percent, respectively, opposed the measures.

ACLU sues Utah

The American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Utah, and Strindberg & Scholnick filed a lawsuit  in Utah state court on behalf of four same-sex couples who were legally married in Utah after a federal court struck down a state ban, but before the U.S. Supreme Court temporarily halted marriages from taking place while the state challenged the decision. Although the marriages were valid, the state has announced that it had placed recognition of their marriages on hold indefinitely.

“These couples were legally married under Utah law and their unions must be treated the same as any other Utah marriage,” said John Mejia, legal director of the ACLU of Utah. “Even our attorney general said that the marriages were entitled to full recognition by the state at the time they were performed.  Regardless of what ultimately happens in the federal challenge to Utah’s marriage ban, the marriages that already occurred are valid and must be recognized now.”


 Operation Blue Note demands legislators hear nondiscrimination bill

Utah State Sen. Steve Urquhart (R-St. George) taped the first blue note to the doors of the Utah Senate chamber.  The message was simple:  “Hear SB100.” The bill, its sixth year on the hill, sought to provide housing and employment protections for LGBT Utahns through current anti-discrimination measures.  It would have added the terms “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” to current law that protects people on the basis of race, creed, religion, sex, family status, etc.  Last year the bill made its most significant progress, favorably passing a senate committee, before failing to pass at the end of the session.

Legislators show animus to trans* community

As the Utah legislative leaders considered a moratorium on LGBT-related legislation, worried that potential ‘animus’ in discussions of the bills would hurt the state’s efforts to overturn Judge Shelby’s ruling that prohibiting same-sex marriage is unconstitutional, Utah Senate President Wayne Neiderhauser (R-Salt Lake) and Rep. Jacob Anderegg (R-Lehi) demonstrated exactly why Sen. Urquhart’s non-discrimination bill, SB100, is needed. Earlier, Anderegg was erroneously listed as the sponsor of SB100.

Anderegg then tweeted that he is “strongly considering a gender identitfying [sic] change to use the open womens [sic]” restroom as the private “Men’s” bathroom in the House office building is occupied. To which Neiderhauser replied, “First supporting SB100, now switching your gender identity?  Just can’t keep up with you.  You’re a new man! erm…woman…” Neiderhauser later claimed an intern sent the tweet and offered to meet with any trans* people and friends who were offended by the remark.

The exchange prompted a meeting between legislative leaders and the trans* community where people could tell their stories and explain why suck mocking hurts them.

Legislature decides to hear no LGBT-related bills in 2014

Utah House and Senate leaders decided not to hear any lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender-related bills for fear that rhetoric on both sides of the issue may affect the pending appeal of the Dec. 20 ruling by Judge Robert Shelby striking down the state’s prohibition of same-sex marriage. Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes told Republicans in a closed-door session that if any LGBT-related bills receive a public testimony, it was “inevitable that some lawmaker or member of the public would say something offensive: and could damage the state’s case.” Senate President Wayne Niederhauser (R-Sandy) said the high emotion behind the bills made leadership decide not to hear them, including SB100, during the appeal.

Park City High School students raise money for marriage equality

Braving freezing temperatures, members of the Park City High School Gay-Straight Alliance sold water and coffee for ten days to Sundance Film Festival attendees. Their goal: raise money to support the activities of their alliance and make a donation to Restore Our Humanity, the organization behind the same-sex marriage case in Utah. Standing in the cold, the students used clever rhymes and sales pitches to ply their goods to festival goers. After 10 days of work, the alliance was able to make a donation of $1,000 to Restore. On the check’s memo line they noted that the donation was for “our future.”

Nat’l Fair Housing Alliance urges Utah Senate to hear SB100

With news of the Utah Senate planning to table SB 100, an anti-discrimination bill that would protect gays and lesbians under the state’s existing housing civil rights laws, Shanna L. Smith, president of the National Fair Housing Alliance, issued a statement calling for the state legislative body to keep the bill alive and hold a vote on it.

“The National Fair Housing Alliance urges Utah Senate leaders to bring up Senate Bill 100 for consideration during this legislative session. S.B. 100 would extend existing housing and employment protections in Utah to LGBT people, opening up job and housing opportunities for more individuals and families across the state.

“SB 100 is the right bill at the right time. Today, Utah’s housing and employment law does not protect all people, and leaves the door open for landlords and other housing providers to deny housing choice to people based on their sexual orientation or gender identity rather than on objective qualifying standards. This is not the American way of equality and fairness. All people deserve the right to equal access to housing.”

Protesters demanding passage of SB100 arrested for blocking access to committee hearing

Thirteen protesters who were at the Utah State Capitol Building demanding passage of Senate Bill 100 were arrested as they blocked access to a legislative committee hearing. The bill would enact a statewide nondiscrimination law protecting lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Utahns from discrimination in the workplace and in housing. The group first lined up outside the governor’s office and were met by bill sponsor Sen. Steve Urquhart and Sen. Jim Dabakis, Utah’s only openly gay state legislator. They later moved to block access to a committee hearing that Utah Senate President Wayne Niederhauser was to attend. Legislative legal counsel told the protesters that blocking access to an legislative meeting could be charged as a felony. The protesters refused to move as others trying to access the committee hearing began yelling at them. Utah Highway Patrol officers then brought out zip ties and arrested the protesters one-by-one. Arrested were Troy Williams, Michelle and Gail Turpin, Donna Weinholtz, Gail Murdock, Jake Hanson, Orlando Luna, Dustin Trent, Matt Conway, Kevin Garner, Steven Germann, Angela Isaacs and Matthew Landis. They would later be dubbed the “Capitol 13.” Each is now facing charges of class B misdemeanor disrupting a meeting, which carries a maximum six months in jail and $1000 fine.

Holladay passes nondiscrimination ordinance

Holladay City become the 20th municipality in the state to ensure that gay and transgender residents can live and work without fear of unfair discrimination.

“Discrimination against hardworking lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Utahns in our state is real. Forty-nine percent of gay Utahns, and a staggering 67 percent of transgender Utahns have been fired, denied a job, or not promoted solely because of who they are,” said Equality Utah Executive Director Brandie Balken.

The ordinance’s passage took a while, and took some coaching from Equality Utah’s staff.

“Through this process I grew, and became a better listener as I considered both sides of the argument,” said Council Member Patricia Pignanelli. “Ultimately I came out of this experience full of respect for the people on both sides of the issue.

Steven Ha chosen as Utah Pride Center Executive Director

Utah Pride Center leaders chose to extend a one-year contract to Steven Ha, who was named the interim director earlier this year.

“This feels like a homecoming to me,” said Steven Ha, “and I am dedicated to collaborating with stakeholders, professionals, and the LGBTQ community to shape a stronger and healthier Utah.”

Utah Attorney General steps into private adoption cases of legally married same-sex couples

The Utah Attorney General’s office was stepping into the “private, personal” matters of adoptions by legally married same sex couples, according to several families who held a press conference at the Utah State Capitol. Attorneys Laura Milliken Gray, Shane Marx, Christopher Wharton and Janelle Bauer held the conference, asking the state to “protect all of the families and children in Utah.”

“The Utah Attorney General’s office has taken the extreme position of injecting itself into what have always been private, sealed second-parent adoption cases,” said Gray. “This week, the AG’s office files memos in several ongoing same-sex adoption cases, taking the rare step of actually objecting to the timely completion of these adoptions … These adoptions provide stability to the kids involved, including social security, death and disability, inheritance, health insurance and the right to support and contact by both parents if one dies or if the relationship ends.”

“The state claims in its marriage case that its primary concern is to protect Utah’s children, but instead it is actually affirmatively attacking these children and their parents,” Gray said. “It seems to us particularly egregious for the state to go out of its way to insert itself into these private, highly personal cases. We believe it demonstrates clear animus and a disregard for these families.”


Dabakis resigns as Utah State Democratic chair

Openly gay Utah state Sen. Jim Dabakis announced that he was resigning as chair of the state Democratic Party. In an email sent to Democrats across the state, Dabakis said that his tenure as chair was transformative, yet extremely taxing on his personal life. He said he is resigning for family reasons and medical issues. He maintained his senatorial seat and radio shows.

“While I spend the next months fighting some medical issues, I can assure you that my voice still works. I will stay in the Senate and run for re-election (I have 3 tough Tea Party opponents). Frankly, the Senate job is very genteel, unlike the party chair’s 24/7 war. I can handle the Senate job and do what I need to do to get physically better. Quitting one job was a compromise I made with Stephen (my partner of 27 years and husband of 3 months),” he wrote.

QSaltLake publisher receives ‘Service to Journalism’ award

The University of Utah Department of Communications presented the “Service to Journalism” award to QSaltLake publisher and editor Michael Aaron at their 59th Annual Communication Awards Banquet April 2. The Communication Awards Banquet honors students who have won awards or scholarships, and new members of Kappa Tau Alpha, the national honor society for students in journalism and mass communication. In addition, distinguished members of the community are also honored.


Salt Lake man knocked unconscious defending gay friend

According to Salt Lake City police, a straight man was punched in the face and knocked unconscious while he was defending his gay friend downtown.

“Two male victims were involved in a verbal dispute with a group of Middle Eastern or Indian males who took offense to the perceived sexual preference of the victims,” a report reads. “As the victims were standing outside on the sidewalk, one of the suspects approached one of the victims and punched him in the face, knocking him unconscious.”

The suspect ran off and the victim’s friend tried to catch him, but was unsuccessful.

Thousands of students to participate in Day of Silence

Hundreds of thousands of students at more than 8,000 schools participated in the 19th annual GLSEN Day of Silence to raise awareness about the pervasiveness of anti-LGBT name-calling, bullying and harassment in schools. LGBT students and their allies remained silent throughout the school day or during non-instructional time to illustrate the silencing effect of anti-LGBT bias and behavior.

“GLSEN’s Day of Silence has changed me as a person,” said Christin Manus, a 17-year-old high school junior from Dacula, Ga. “When I was a freshman in high school, I was incredibly shy and not quite out of the closet. I found it difficult to love myself and speak out. I came out on Day of Silence that year. People called me fag and slammed me into lockers. Day of Silence is important to me because I want to be the voice of all the kids who are afraid and scared to be who they are.”

Kitchen marriage team travels to Denver to testify before the 10th Circuit Court

The legal team, couples, and leaders of Restore Our Humanity traveled to Denver to argue their case before the 10th Circuit Court. The newly formed Utah Unites for Marriage held a send-off celebration for them at the Salt Lake City Main Library.

“These brave Utahns are putting their families front and center in leading the charge for the freedom to marry. They need to know that, as a state and a movement, we stand with them in this historic quest,” organizers said in a statement.

Study: Same-sex marriage would boost Utah economy

The state of Utah would see an economic boost once marriage is extended to same-sex couples, said a report from the University of California School of Law’s Williams Institute.

“We predict that 1,955 in-state same-sex couples would choose to marry in the three years following an opening of marriage to same-sex couples in Utah,” the report by E.G. Fitzgerald, Christy Mallory and M.V. Lee Badgett says. “The total spending on wedding arrangements and tourism by resident same-sex couples and their guests would add an estimated $15.5 million to the state and local economy of Utah over the course of three years, with a $9.9 million boost in the first year alone.”

The report said that the boost would add a million dollars in sales tax revenue and support 268 full- and part-time jobs in the state.


Tennessee man tried to join ‘Kitchen v. Herbert’ case in order to marry computer

A former attorney from Brentwood, Tenn. asked to be included as an additional plaintiff in the Kitchen v. Herbert marriage equality case as it was being heard by the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals. Mark Christopher Sevier filed the motion with the court, arguing that he had also been damaged by Utah’s marriage ban when he attempted to obtain a marriage license for himself and a machine. In his 50-page brief, Sevier argues that “The Constitutionality of the law in dispute narrowly defines marriage between ‘one man and one women (sic),’ not ‘one man and one man,’ ‘one woman and one woman,’ ‘one man and one machine,’ ‘one man and one animal’ which violates the Due Process Clause and Equal Protection clause of all classes of sexual orientation, not just same-sex orientation.”

Two men assaulted in Fairpark neighborhood in possible hate crime

Two men suffered concussions, cuts and bruises after simply saying “hello” to a man at a 7-11 at 10th West and North Temple. Estevan Lucero said the man began calling him “faggot” while in the store and others with the man began getting aggressive. Lucero and his boyfriend Braulio Rodriguez tried to leave in their car, and the man and his friends threw fruit into the car through an open window. Rodriguez said he tried to go into the store to get help and was punched in the face and thrown to the ground by one or more of the men. Lucero got out of the car to help his partner, but was blocked by two of the men, Rodriguez told QSaltLake. The men punched him in the face as well.

“When [Rodriguez] fell down, I heard his head hit the pavement,” Lucero said. He rushed to Rodriguez, who was unconscious on the ground, bleeding. “His eyes were closed at first, and then he just looked at me like in a daze.”

No arrests were even made in the assault.

Mormons Building Bridges rejected by Days of ’47 parade

Though this year’s theme of the Days of ’47 Parade was “Pioneers-Pushing Toward Our Future,” that future apparently does not include gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and ally pioneers. Parade organizers rejected an application for Mormons Building Bridges, which has marched in the Utah Pride Parade since 2012 and has grown to 5,000 Facebook members, to join in the festivities. The group proposed an entry titled “Mormons Building Bridges Celebrates Utah’s LGBT/SSA Pioneers” to include a car with eight leaders from areas of public service, business, the arts, and the faith community, who also happen to be LGBT.

MBB was notified by Days of ’47 co-chair Jodene Smith that, “due to the subject matter and under [the parade’s] general standards, [the parade’s co-chairs] will not be able to permit your application at this time.”

Pride Festival director and events coordinator resign 3 weeks before Pride

With less than three weeks remaining until the annual Utah Pride Festival, two key event staff members left the Utah Pride Center.  Megan Risbon, under contract as Festival Director since January 2014, terminated her contract and Events Coordinator Shannon Hagen left that same week. Issues apparently came to a head during the May board of directors meeting, when board chair John Netto and ex-officio board member Nikki Boyer repeatedly interrupted Hagen during her presentation of a festival status report when she announced that ticket prices would be $8 for pre-sales and $10 at the gate. Boyer and Netto were under the impression tickets would be $15 and were also concerned that the entertainment budget was surpassed. Tickets, however, had gone on sale April 15.

Long-time community activist Dominique Storni said that Netto and Boyer were, “Too harsh. Too much micro-managing. Too much control.”

Hagen told QSaltLake that she informed three staff members that evening that she was leaving her position, citing the public humiliation she endured during the meeting. She also posted a Facebook status, but took it down shortly after.

Risbon, who left her full-time position at the Utah Pride Center in January, but stayed on under contract to direct the Pride Festival, terminated her contract the next day. She cited Netto’s lack of oversight and her belief that she would end up being the scapegoat for any problems that may arise with the festival.



Utah Pride Festival chooses marriage plaintiffs as parade grand marshals

This year, Utah Pride selected six grand marshals of the Utah Pride Festival: the three couples of Utah’s Amendment 3 marriage equality case — Moudi Sbeity and Derek Kitchen, Laurie Wood and Kody Partridge, and Kate Call and Karen Archer.

“By standing up for what is right, they have become a beacon of hope for the Utah LGBTQ community and for LGBTQ citizens all across the nation. Join in the celebration of the courage, determination and passion of these three couples as they all continue to work for marriage equality in the state of Utah,” leaders said in a statement.

SLC police officer placed on leave after refusing assignment during Utah Pride

Salt Lake City police have provided security services for Utah Pride every year it has been held in city limits, said police spokeswoman Lara Jones. This year, an officer was put on paid administrative leave for refusing an assignment at Utah Pride.

“If you refuse to do an assignment, that’s going to be a problem inside the police department,” Jones said. “The vast majority of officers, when they come to work, they understand that they leave their personal opinions at home and serve the community.”

The unnamed officer cited religious convictions in asking for reassignment rather than participating directly in the parade. He ultimately resigned his position over the incident.

Utah Pride draws more festival-goers, makes less money

The 2014 Utah Pride Festival and Parade was another banner year for attendees, but profits to help run the Utah Pride Center were down. The Festival drew 34,608 people, including volunteers, sponsors, booth personnel and Center staff. Of that, 26,309 were festival-goers with tickets. Around 7,000 showed up for Saturday’s festivities, and over 19,000 attended on Sunday. Last year’s festival drew around 28,000 total participants, nearly a 24 percent increase in total attendance this year.

Salt Lake City police estimated the Utah Pride Parade as a total of 35,000 participants, including all those marching in the parade and those on the sidelines watching.

Nearly 900 volunteers staffed 1,400 3-hour shifts plus 14 community partner organizations covered such things as the merchandise booth run by the Utah Bears, the wine bar run by QUAC, etc. There were 248 vendors, up from 175 the previous year, 143 parade entries, up from 125 in 2013 and between 8,000 and 11,000 people participated in parade entries, according to the report.

Income for the event was reported at $663,330. About 37 percent of that was from admissions ($246,000), 27 percent in beverage sales, 25 percent in cash sponsors, $2,500 pitched into the large rainbow flag in the parade, and $2,800 in tips at beverage stations.

Expenses, however, were much higher this year than last at $528,282. Thirty-five percent of that was used in logistics (tents, signs, venue rental, insurance, etc.), 15 percent for staffing and stipends, seven percent for security and safety, five percent for permits and insurance, and 11 percent for entertainers and their travel. The net proceeds, therefore, ended up at roughly $135,000, almost half of 2013’s $264,000. Total expenses in 2013 were only $372,000.

10th Circuit Court upholds Shelby’s marriage ruling

The three-judge panel on the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld U.S. District Judge Robert Shelby’s Dec. 20 ruling that Utah’s Amendment 3 and other laws that restricted marriage to male-female couples violates the U.S. Constitution.

“Having heard and carefully considered the argument of the litigants, we conclude that, consistent with the United States Constitution, the State of Utah may not do so. We hold that the Fourteenth Amendment protects the fundamental right to marry, establish a family, raise children, and enjoy the full protection of a state’s marital laws. A state may not deny the issuance of a marriage license to two persons, or refuse to recognize their marriage, based solely upon the sex of the persons in the marriage union. For the reasons stated in this opinion, we affirm.”

The judges stayed their decision while the state of Utah decided whether to appeal.

Restore Our Humanity passed the torch on marriage equality

Restore Our Humanity, the organization that put together the plaintiffs and the attorneys, and assumed the financial responsibility for the Kitchen v. Herbert case announced that they were passing the torch in the battle as it moves to the Supreme Court level.

“We are proud and humbled to be a part of Kitchen v. Herbert.  Nevertheless, we recognize our limitations and finite resources.  Restore Our Humanity is a tiny, almost all-volunteer, grass-roots organization which has never sought the national spotlight.  Our focus as an organization has always been to serve the diverse communities of Utah, and affect real, lasting, positive change here.

Pocatello passes LGBT discrimination ordinance

Pocatello became one of seven Idaho cities where city leaders adopted local ordinances barring employers, landlords and most businesses from discriminating on basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. But Pocatello’s ordinance was the first in the state to be upheld through a ballot referendum. Opponents claimed the ordinance forced business owners to choose between their personal beliefs and their profession. Proposition One on the May 20 ballot asked city residents whether to repeal the ordinance or keep it. Officials say that 4,943 people voted to keep the law in place, while 4,863 people voted to rescind it. Opponents asked for the recount in June, and paid $100 for each precinct they wanted recounted.

Brandie Balken leaves Equality Utah

Just shy of her fifth anniversary as executive director of Equality Utah, Brandie Balken announced she will be leaving in August to assume a new position with the Gill Foundation, one of the nation’s largest funders of LGBT equality work.

“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,” Balken continued.

Veteran sues Idaho for burial rights near her partner

The National Center for Lesbian Rights, and Boise attorneys Deborah A. Ferguson and Craig Durham, filed a lawsuit on behalf of Madelynn Lee Taylor, a 74-year-old military veteran, challenging an Idaho state law prohibiting her from being buried in the Idaho State Veterans Cemetery with her late wife, Jean Mixner. Taylor served in the Navy from 1958 to 1964. In 2013, she tried to make advance arrangements to have her ashes interred with those of her wife in a granite columbarium at the Idaho State Veterans Cemetery, as other veterans and their spouses are permitted. Though Mixner and Taylor were married in California in 2008, cemetery employees refused her request because Idaho law does not recognize their marriage. The lawsuit argues that Idaho’s law prohibiting recognition of same-sex marriages in other states violates the United States Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection and due process.

“Idaho is where some of our best memories together are and it’s where I want to spend eternity with Jean,” Taylor said. “I could be buried here alone, but I don’t want to be alone. I want Jean with me forever.”

She was allowed to inter her partner after the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals struck down Idaho’s laws banning same-sex marriage in October.

Utah man fired for writing about ‘gay phones’

Saying people will think the school is associated with gay sex, the owner of a Utah school that teaches English as a second language fired a man from his job as a social media specialist for a blog post he made on homophones. No, not a gay phone, but words that sound like another word. Tim Torkildson said that shortly after his lesson went up, Nomen Global Language Center owner Clarke Woodger fired him, complaining “now our school is going to be associated with homosexuality.”

“I’m letting you go because I can’t trust you. This blog about homophones was the last straw.  Now our school is going to be associated with homosexuality,” Woodger told Torkildson, according to an account on Torklidson’s personal blog. “I had to look up the word because I didn’t know what the hell you were talking about. We don’t teach this kind of advanced stuff to our students, and it’s extremely inappropriate. Can you have your desk cleaned out by eleven this morning? I’ll have your check ready.”

Torkildson’s former employer confirms the incident of homophonia actually happened.


Movin’ on up: BYU moves from 6th to 4th most “gay-unfriendly” university in America

The Princeton Review released its annual survey results which listed Provo’s Brigham Young University, owned and operated by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the Mormons) as the fourth most gay-unfriendly university in America.  BYU claimed the number 6 spot last year.

Facebook donated $10,000 to Reyes’ campaign

According to disclosures filed with the Utah Lieutenant Governor’s office, Facebook, Inc. donated $10,000 to the campaign of Attorney General Sean Reyes. Facebook, according to its “diversity” page, “values the impact that every individual can have. We are dedicated to creating an environment where people can be their authentic selves and share their diverse backgrounds, experiences, perspectives and ideas.”

When asked about the donation to the person who has arguably become the face of legal opposition to marriage equality in America, a Facebook spokesperson responded with:

“Facebook has a strong record on LGBT issues and that will not change, but we make decisions about which candidates to support based on the entire portfolio of issues important to our business, not just one. A contribution to a candidate does not mean that we agree with every policy or position that candidate takes. We made this donation for the same reason we’ve donated to Attorneys General on the opposite side of this issue – because they are committed to fostering innovation and an open Internet.”

BYU Bookstore removes same-sex wedding cards

Get ready to clutch your pearls and gasp so hard you black out. The Brigham Young University Bookstore removed a series of greeting cards aimed at congratulating same-sex couples on their marriage. What you might be surprised at, is that they got there in the first place. Hallmark cards reading “Mr. and Mr.” and “Mrs. and Mrs.” were quickly removed from the bookstore shelves after the staff were alerted by social media.

“The outside vendor stocked the shelves without realizing the school wouldn’t want to sell the cards marketed to buyers celebrating unions between two brides and two grooms,” BYU spokeswoman Carri Jenkins said. She noted that the cards were likely not on the shelves long, but rest assured staffers have spoken with the company about leaving similar cards off university store shelves in the future.

Ultraconservative Sutherland Institute fires president Paul Mero

“I have been fired twice in my life,” Sutherland Institute President Paul Mero wrote on his personal Facebook wall. “Once after a short lobbying stint in between congressional gigs and a second time Friday, August 15, at 8:15 am.” Mero spent the last 14 years at the helm of the ultraconservative “think tank.”

“Utah is an ensign to this nation. Notwithstanding this success, exercising its prerogative, the board fired me — professionally, but unceremoniously,” he wrote. “Rest assured there is no scandal. I am the man everybody knows.”


Equality Utah announced 2014 Allies for Equality awards

Each year at their annual Allies Dinner, Equality Utah selects people or organizations as their “Allies of the Year.” At this year’s dinner at the Salt Palace Grand Ballroom, three awards were given: Salt lake District Attorney Sim Gill, Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker and Affirmation LGBT Mormons Families and Friends.

Gay former WSU football star spoke at Ogden diversity symposium

As part of the second annual Allen Holmes Diversity Symposium, Weber State University hosted Wade Davis II, a former WSU football star who spent four years in the NFL. Davis announced he was gay in 2012, nine years after the conclusion of his professional football career. Since his retirement, Davis has worked to open doors and change perceptions of gay athletes. He is the executive director of You Can Play, an organization dedicated to ensuring equality, respect and safety for all athletes, without regard to sexual orientation. Davis spoke twice during the symposium in an address titled “Out Athletes: Hidden in Plain Sight.”

Provo Pride draw hundreds

Hundreds of people, including families and children, attended the second annual Provo Pride, to listen to live music, dine from food trucks and visit various festival booths. Provo Pride Festival president Tosh Metzger said the slogan “It gets happier” was designed to show how family-friendly the festival really was.

Provo Pride council member Michael Bronson said Provo has “such a diverse culture, even though it’s so conservative here. There are so many gays who need to show their colors.”

Utah sign companies deny God’s love

The “One and Only God of the Internet,” a comedian who has launched a project to place “God Loves Gays” billboards in hot spots around the country, announced a decision to place a billboard in Salt Lake City, Utah, but was denied by the two largest outdoor advertising companies in the valley:  Reagan Outdoor and Young Electric Sign Company. “God” raised funds through crowd funding site Indiegogo to place billboards in Topeka, Kansas and then in Salt Lake City.

“YESCO evaluates all requests for advertising placement to make the best decision for our clients, our company and the communities in which we operate.  We balance that with a strong commitment to adhere to community standards and to ensure that the messages placed are not offensive towards any business, group or individual,” a company spokesperson wrote.

Utah Pride Center cut hours, reopened CyberCenter

The Utah Pride Center announced that it cut its hours by over 57 percent, now open Tuesday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. At one point, the Center was open from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. weekdays, 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. Saturdays and 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sundays. Since its move to the Fourth South building, the organization has suffered financial issues. The new CyberCenter was funded by the David Bohnett Foundation and includes free access to four computer workstations and a printer, along with an internet connection.

U.S. Supreme Court rejects Utah’s marriage appeal. Same-sex marriages return

The United States Supreme Court officially rejected appeals from Indiana, Oklahoma, Utah, Virginia, and Wisconsin on marriage equality cases, immediately ending the previously imposed stays on appellate court rulings and making same-sex marriage legal in 30 states and the District of Columbia on October 6.

“We are thrilled and humbled to have been able to help bring marriage equality to the people of Utah and the other states in the Tenth Circuit.  This is a perfect example of how our judicial system should work.  Love and justice prevail,” said Mark Lawrence, director of Restore Our Humanity.

Equality Utah taps Troy Williams as executive director

‘This isn’t quite the life path I envisioned for myself when I was a 19-year-old Mormon missionary knocking doors in England,” Troy Williams told the crowd of over 2,000 gathered at Equality Utah’s annual Allies Dinner. “Or when I came home from my mission and I was so scared of being gay that I became an intern for the one organization where I thought I would be safe – The Utah Eagle Forum. Gayle [Ruzicka] had no idea she was training the future director of Equality Utah. Obviously, I’ve come a long way since then.”

Williams took the helm after former executive director Brandie Balken moved to Denver, Colo. to work at the Gill Foundation.

Utah Sen. Mike Lee inducted into inaugural HRC Hall of Shame

The Human Rights Campaign inducted the inaugural class of the most anti-equality members of Congress into its Hall of Shame. Utah Sen. Mike Lee is among the 19 members in the list. Lee was the author of the Marriage and Religious Freedom Act, which “Prohibits the federal government from taking an adverse action against a person on the basis that such person acts in accordance with a religious belief that: (1) marriage is or should be recognized as the union of one man and one woman, or (2) sexual relations are properly reserved to such a marriage.” It was introduced in the house on Sept. 19, 2013 and has sat in committee for 13 months. He also voted against the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, as he believes equal protection does not apply to LGBT people.

Trans* advocates held silent vigil at the Utah State Capitol, First Baptist Church

Two trans* events took place on the 16th annual Transgender Day of Remembrance in Salt Lake City with a silent vigil in the Utah State Capitol Rotunda and an evening event at First Baptist Church. The vigil and bell ringing, marking each of the names of the transgender individuals who have lost their lives to violence, neglect and suicide, began at noon.

“It’s important to bring this event to the very people whose power can evoke change,” said TEA of Utah Executive Director Connie Anast-Inman. “This is a time where, in silence, we come to honor their lives and bring the issue of transgender violence to the people of Utah. As a state, we must publicly condemn the violence and work toward better and deeper understanding of transgender issues in Utah.”

While Utah has lost at least one trans* resident to suicide, the numbers of trans* assaults have risen to over 25.

“It’s impossible to know the true numbers,” remarks Anast-Inman. “So many of our trans* brothers and sisters don’t report their assaults. Many of them are undocumented, or sex workers, or have a real distrust of the police. Sometimes, it’s a combination of all three of these circumstances. Sadly, a significant number of the assaults simply aren’t counted. We strive to give a voice to those who feel voiceless.”

‘Capitol 13’ finally face charges

Exactly nine months after 13 supporters of an LGBT nondiscrimination bill were arrested for blocking access to a legislative committee hearing, the group finally faced their first day in a courtroom Nov. 11. A pre-trial conference was held for the group, since dubbed the “Capitol 13,” in Salt Lake City Justice Court before Judge Catherine Roberts. The possibility of the protesters accepting a plea deal was off the table, as each wanted to go forward to be heard. They face charges of class B misdemeanor disrupting a meeting, which carries a maximum six months in jail and $1000 fine. Another hearing is scheduled in late December and the legal team expects the process will take several months after that.

Town hall meeting called on ultra-conservative anti-gay rhetoric in Utah County

In response to the rising anti-gay rhetoric by ultra-conservative activists in Utah County, Restore Our Humanity has called for a town meeting to address what they call the “deceptive vilification and defamation that has been launched against the LGBT community since marriage equality debates have come to Utah.”

“The international ‘anti-gay’ industry has multi-million dollar budgets and they hide behind the guise of religion, mainly Christianity,” leaders wrote in a statement. “There is no shortage of these organizations in Utah. Scathing anti-gay rhetoric is routinely published in local papers. Whether the sources are institutional, personal or leaders of organized groups, these attacks are destructive and unwelcome in a civilized state.”

The group says that such rhetoric hurts families and causes a rift in the general community.

Ha resigns as Utah Pride Center Executive Director

The Utah Pride Center announced that its executive director, Steven Ha, has resigned. Also, John Netto is also no longer the president of the board of directors as the board elected new leaders at their December board meeting. Elected as president of the board was Kent Frogley, who had been the vice president. Christopher Wharton was elected as vice president, Kathleen Boyd as treasurer and Jason Suker as secretary.

“The Utah Pride Center today accepted the resignation of executive director Steven Ha and would like to thank him for his service,” Frogley said in a statement. “Mr. Ha was recently diagnosed with a recurrence of lymphoma and is stepping down.”

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