Rep. Sahara Hayes is now Utah’s only openly LGBTQ legislator
Utah’s only currently openly gay legislator, Rep. Sahara Hayes, has become a prominent voice for LGBTQ rights in the state’s government. In her first session, Hayes was immediately thrust into an emotional discussion about the community’s rights as the legislature moved to ban transgender-related surgeries and puberty blockers for children.
During the debate, Hayes spoke out against the effort, citing her close relationship with someone who is trans. She talked about how hard it was for her loved one to live “knowing you’re never going to have the body you want.” Hayes knew she might need to address an issue like this because a 2022 bill banning transgender girls from playing high school sports prompted her to run for office in the first place.
“H.B. 11 is actually a big reason why I ran for office because I do have a trans loved one,” she said. “It felt like there needed to be somebody that was directly standing in that line of fire. You see this group just getting vilified a lot, and used as a scapegoat. … It’s hard because I see the people that it hurts directly.”
Hayes believes that more representation from the queer community in government is necessary to ensure that the needs of LGBTQ people are heard and addressed. “I think we need to elect more queer people. That’s just a fact,” she said. “I don’t speak for all queer people, and I think that’s important as well. … It’s hard to necessarily trust that somebody is going to be making the best decisions for your self-interest if they have never seen what your self-interest means.”
Hayes has proposed several bills this session, including one that would require school districts to provide age-appropriate firearm safety and suicide prevention materials as part of a suicide prevention program. HB481 was referred to the House Education Committee on Thursday, but will likely not advance this year if it doesn’t receive a hearing by Monday.
Outside of her legislative duties, Hayes is an aerialist who has performed trapeze at events like Craft Lake City and the Great Salt Lake Fringe Festival. She is also a longtime knitter, after being taught by her mother as a child.
“I remember her sitting in meetings, turning out multiple hand-knit dishcloths that she would later gift to friends and family,” Hayes said. “I’ve learned from her example, and if I’m in an online meeting, there’s a very good chance that my needles and yarn will make an appearance.”
Before running for the Legislature, Hayes spent several years working for local governments and nonprofits. She previously worked for West Valley City’s Division of Arts and Culture and served on the Millcreek Community Council from 2020-2022. In the nonprofit world, Hayes said she had to focus on finding “creative and collaborative” solutions to a variety of problems – honing skills she expects will come in handy as a legislator.
“My view is that the government exists to serve its citizens and that it should be doing everything it can to uplift the people who call our state home,” she said. “I am a Democrat, but my goal is to serve my constituents, not subscribe to a specific ideology.”
Despite being one of only 14 Democrats in the Utah House of Representatives, Hayes plans to work across party lines to address issues that are important to her and her constituents. She believes that Utah politics is presented to the public as a very ‘us vs. them’ mentality, and she would love to shift away from that narrative. “Each one of us is up there because we want what’s best for Utah and our communities,” she said. “There are often different ways to reach that goal.”
Hayes has become an important voice for the LGBTQ community in Utah and she hopes to continue fighting for the community’s rights and protecting the Great Salt Lake.