The Salt Lake City LGBT community wants equal rights

Story and photo by VALERIA MONCADA

Many lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Utahns want equal rights. This does not only include equal marital status but also includes issues such as adoption, benefits, the protection of their children and the right to make choices for their partner.

Monica Martin, 22, and Hali Taylor, 23, have been dating for a year and living together in Logan for 10 months.

“Neither of us has been disowned or had our parents disappointed in us,” Martin said. “But my father was remarried this summer and he made it clear he didn’t want us introduced as a couple at his wedding because he didn’t want people focusing on us and our relationship rather than his marriage. In reality he was afraid that he would be judged as a father.”

Martin and Taylor have also encountered difficult situations where landlords did not want to rent them an apartment due to their sexual orientation.

“Renting an apartment was hard in a religious community,” Martin said. “Even though people are not supposed to discriminate, they do. We have had to be careful not to disclose our relationship to possible prospective landlords.”

When it comes to acceptance, some people are not as lucky as Martin and Taylor.

Berlin Schlegel, 20, who lives in Murray, did not have his family’s support during his coming-out process.

Berlin Schlegel, on the left, and Tadd Mecham are like any other couple: they enjoy reading together, hanging out and spending time with their dog.

“The biggest struggle I have had to overcome was the disapproval from my family,” Schlegel said. “My mom did not take my coming out well and it has since then created an ongoing conflict.”

Schlegel not only had to face family issues, but he also began to get cyberbullied.

“I would receive anonymous emails that said things like faggot, queer, homo, etc.,” he said. “There were not any instances that were very assertive, just a few offensive slurs here and there.”

In the lives of a gay or lesbian person there are more difficulties than just marriage. Equal rights, renting a place, buying a car and family situations all can be challenging.

Martin and Taylor have thought about these difficulties.

“Honestly marriage is the least of our worries,” Martin said. “I am more concerned about hospital rights, partnership rights, insurance, all the details that straight couples often take for granted. It scares me that one day I could end up in the hospital or Hali could and we would not be able to see one another without permission of an immediate family member.”

Others do worry more about equal marriage rights, such as Tadd Mecham, a student at the University of Utah.

“I am concerned that equal marriage rights will take longer than they should to become legally recognized nationwide it is already long overdue,” he said.

Mecham added, “If I want to get married it should not be a process of moving to another state. I should be able to get married and adopt if I want to. Also, it would be nice to be able to legally visit my partner if they were in a serious accident. Things like that should not fall under anyone else’s responsibilities.”

Martin worries about end-of-life issues. “If I die my wishes would be determined by my family who honestly has no clue what I want if such a thing were to happen,” she said.

“I would love to one day call Hali my wife, but if it cannot happen tomorrow or even five years from now that is OK, it doesn’t change how much I love her,” Martin said. “All we ask for is the ability to gain civil union rights.”

Sometimes there may not be any family members to decide what happens. Brandie Balken, the executive director of Equality Utah, recently related a story about friends of hers.

“Nikki and Ann had been together for 24 years, they had all of their paperwork put together,” she said. “Unfortunately Ann died of a heart attack. Nikki called the morgue and then went to pick up the body. She had every contract except Disposition of Remains.

“Ann’s parents were dead and she did not have any siblings, there was no one to give the body to because Nikki did not have that contract, Ann’s body goes to the state and Nikki does not have a say in what happens,” Balken added.

Despite all of the challenges the LGBT community faces, Martin stressed how ordinary their lives are.

“We are definitely normal,” Martin said. “We are best friends; we build forts like kids, have sushi dates and spend nights watching our favorite shows and doing homework together. And we could not be happier.”