2013: LGBTQ equality in Utah? It has a fighting chance

Story and photo by SASCHA BLUME

With the 2013 Utah legislative sessions set to begin on Jan. 28, the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer community is in a political quandary.

Max Green, advocacy coordinator for Equality Utah in Salt Lake City, said, “We’re not asking for special treatment, just the same protection that everyone is provided.”

Green said the national and state elections of 2012 have made an impact on the coming year’s legislative process.

“With so much turnover from the elections not every person is up to date and not every legislator is familiar with the legislative readings,” Green said.

This makes it particularly difficult to have a season-long dialogue about specific legislation, Green said.

In an attempt to bring equal rights and protection to the LGBTQ community, Equality Utah created the Common Ground Initiative in 2012. The nonprofit organization’s mission is: “To secure equal rights and protections for LGBTQ Utahns and their families.”

This proposed initiative was designed to positively impact four problem areas in Utah’s LGBTQ community:

(1) Fair housing and employment (SB 51). Currently, Utahns can be evicted from their house because of their sexual orientation.

(2) Expanding health care (HB 64). Currently, lesbian and gay individuals cannot visit a loved one in a hospital.

(3) Relationship Recognition (SB 126).

(4) Inheritance. LGBTQ individuals are unable to claim inheritance when their partner dies.

During the 2012 legislative sessions, Utah’s Sate Capitol Rotunda was the site of a rally organized by Human Dignity Utah. The purpose of the rally was to encourage Utah legislators to ratify the Common Ground Initiative.

The rally drew more than 100 people — some carried signs, others sang, but all were there to show solidarity in their quest for equality.

Five speakers addressed the audience and the dozens of lawmakers who watched from the third-floor balcony surrounded by armed Utah Highway Patrol officers.

Sister Dottie Dixon, a local art performer, told the audience, “By showing up here today we’re showing that we are fed up; we’re tired of being ignored, politely dismissed, relegated to second-class citizens.”

Kathy Godwin, president of the Salt Lake Chapter of Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG), told the crowd that the majority of Utah citizens and businesses want equal protection for the LGBTQ community. She also said that approximately 70 percent of Utahns encourage state legislators to give civil rights to the LGBTQ community.

Isaac Higham, a keynote speaker with Human Dignity Utah, said after the rally, “I’m sick of the nonchalance of how easily they just dismiss our community and don’t even give us a true fair hearing.”

Higham said that Utah legislators are misinformed regarding what the people of Utah want. He said it’s the job of all Utahns to remind lawmakers that they are in office to work for the people, not just their agenda.

The Common Ground Initiative failed. All four bills went unheard and were effectively tabled.