Equality Utah: Facing bias takes no toll on this organization’s open mind, open heart

by VANESSA NELSON

Meet Mike Thompson, the executive director of Equality Utah. Originally from Tulsa, Okla., Thompson is no stranger to living in the heart of a religious community. He grew up as a Baptist. But when asked about his job fighting for lesbian, gay, gisexual and transgender rights in Salt Lake City, Thompson says, “It’s amazing.”

He graduated from the University of Oklahoma with a double major in business and communication then went to work for the oil industry. But it didn’t spark a fire in him. He decided to move to London, England, where he began working with special-needs kids. This is where he found his love for nonprofit work.

Equality Utah — originally called Unity Utah — was founded in 2001. Thompson began working for the organization in the spring of 2004 after a stint at a nonprofit in Denver, Colo. 

Thompson was hired to work on the “No on 3” campaign and raise money for the campaign against the amendment. Although it passed, Equality Utah gained recognition for political pull in the community. 

Equality Utah has been very involved in getting hate-crimes bills passed in the legislature. In 2005, the organization endorsed Taylorsville Mayor Russ Wall and made advances with sexual orientation rights. 

In 2006, Equality Utah, with the help of Ralph Becker, got house bill 148 vetoed. It would have affected partners from getting employment benefits. “Issues of marriage shouldn’t impact issues of employment,” Thompson said.

This year Equality Utah interviewed 29 mayoral candidates before deciding to endorse Ralph Becker. Although Equality Utah didn’t endorse Dave Buhler, they have worked together on many issues regarding gay rights.

The biggest goal for Equality Utah is to secure rights and protections for LGBT couples and families. Thompson doesn’t believe in shutting people out, even if they don’t support his community or organization. He believes in creating a dialogue, having conversations and developing relationships between everyone, especially the people who don’t understand Equality Utah and the LGBT community’s views or opinions. In creating this dialogue people start seeing them as individuals, rather than as stereotypes.

“I’m a lot of other things besides my sexual orientation,” Thompson said.

Thompson loves his job because he can influence and change his part of this world. Although Equality Utah does not take an activist approach in demanding changes, the organization is drawing attention and gaining strength. One way it gains support is linking social events to the work that organizers and volunteers do. Some events have been held at popular local restaurants or bars, making it a more enjoyable experience for everyone participating.  

In the coming months Equality Utah will be fighting to get the bullying bill brought back. It would protect middle school and high school kids who are bullied for their sexual orientation.