With a young freshman class of legislators who are focused on fiscal issues, queer-rights supporters are in a unique position to pass a statewide nondiscrimination law this year, said Brandie Balken, Equality Utah executive director. She spoke at a town hall meeting where more than 150 people gathered to learn more about this year’s efforts to extend anti-bias based protections in the workplace and housing to all Utahns.
“I cannot be more clear. I want this bill to pass. So we’re going to do everything we can to accomplish that,” Balken said.
This is the fourth year the bill protecting against bias based on sexual orientation and gender identity has been proposed. It will begin in the Utah Senate, where it will be heard by the Rules Committee and recommended for a standing committee. While similar bills have been unable to receive the necessary votes to move out of committee and receive a vote by the entire body of the Senate or House, this year is different, Balken said. For the past six months, Equality Utah has worked with various politicians and lobbyists, including Republican lobbyist and former Speaker of the House Greg Curtis, to ensure the bill has enough votes to pass.
“This is going to be a squeaker. We’re going to need all the votes we can get,” she said.
Approximately 70 percent of Utahns support passing a measure that would protect against bias based on sexual orientation and gender identity in workplace and in housing. For this reason, Equality Utah has focused time and energy into moving the ordinances forward both in municipalities and in the legislature, Balken said. There are 16 cities and counties in Utah that have anti-bias laws and the statewide law would make the network of laws more uniform, she said.
There are various aspects to releasing the law and finding the right sponsors, co-sponsors and supporters, said Max Green, Equality Utah’s director of advocacy. But with a younger, possibly more open-minded class of legislators, Utah is poised to make history and pass the measure, he said.
“I’ve spoken with every member of the Utah Legislature and most of them aren’t sure why we’re even having this conversation, why it’s even necessary,” Green said. “We’re in a very unique position this year.”
Along with the nondiscrimination bill, Rep. Rebecca Chavez-Houck is sponsoring a second-parent adoption bill that would allow unmarried partners to jointly adopt children. This issue only has about 30 percent approval from Uthans and is much less likely to pass, although it is still a very important issue, Balken said.
In order to keep the public apprised of all the nondiscrimination bill specifics and when it reaches committee hearings, Equality Utah is launching a new website and will be asking for help through that platform. The site, utahvalue.org, will help voters connect with legislators, which will be instrumental in passing the measure, said Alejandro Mora, the associate of development and communications for Equality Utah.
Of particular importance is encouraging family members and friends who live outside of Salt Lake County to contact legislators to let them know the issue is important, Mora said. While the conversations can be difficult, it is paramount that legislators receive emails, letters and phone calls from constituents asking them to support the nondiscrimination bill. While nondiscrimination measures enjoy support from Democratic lawmakers, in order for it to be passed, the efforts need to reach across party lines, he said.
The bill has not yet received a committee hearing or schedule. As the situation develops, gaysaltlake.com will have the latest information.