Story and photo by DAYLAN JONES
“To achieve change, it takes multiple approaches,” explains Brandie Balken, executive director of Equality Utah.
Balken compares the inequality the LGBT community faces right now to the Civil Rights Movement. People were treated differently by others simply because of the way they were born. African-Americans eventually achieved equal rights and changed history.
Kari Ellingson, associate vice president for student affairs at the University of Utah, said, “There is a lot of unawareness. The more people become aware, the harder it is to discriminate…. Once you begin to recognize you know LGBT people and like them, the more you see them as people and that’s when legislation starts to change.”
Equality Utah is the state’s largest advocacy and policy organization for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community.
According to an Equality Utah email sent after Election Day, “YOU made this possible! … Thanks to you — our volunteers and supporters, we have accomplished so much to elect pro-equality candidates and build support for statewide nondiscrimination in employment and housing!”
The email also noted progress across the country for the LGBT community. Voters in Maryland, Maine and Minnesota passed same-sex marriage, the first openly gay senator was elected into office and the first president ever to endorse marriage equality was re-elected.
Equality Utah and the LGBT community have taken steps forward in Utah in recent years. According to the website, “In 2008 Equality Utah passed a bullying and hazing bill that created a statewide definition of bullying and hazing and outlines the minimum standards for bullying and hazing policies in local districts and charter schools. In 2010 Equality Utah added cyber bullying and verbal harassment to the list of prohibited behaviors.”
Most recently in 2012, in collaboration with the political election, Equality Utah released this statement: “‘It’s Utah’s time to lead!’ Last night we saw that the LGBT voice carries real power. Where are we headed next? The 2013 legislative session where we can, and we will, lead the nation by ending discrimination for LGBT Utahns and their families in workplace and housing.”
Equality Utah is constantly striving to look forward for a better tomorrow and has 21 “Equality”-endorsed Utah elected officials who it believes will join the organization in the fight for civil rights.
One of the fights Equality Utah is winning is with bullying in schools. This is a major problem, one that parents can’t truly protect their child or children from. Balken said that when she was a child, bullying wasn’t as bad as it is today because she got to go home and escape it.
But these days, children can’t escape it because technology is everywhere. Cell phones and social media are constant for the younger generation. This makes the cyberbullying issue that much more crucial to stop in its tracks. Balken said the bullying and hazing bill that was passed will help make a difference in people’s lives; individuals want to live as normal of a life as possible while being treated equally.
“Equality means all of us” is the underlying theme that keeps her going. Balken said the LGBT community is facing more than just unequal marriage rights today. Some of the other obstacles include being unable to visit one’s partner in the hospital.
According to a 2011 poll of Utahns released by the Human Rights Campaign, “Seventy percent of respondents said they know someone who is gay or lesbian and 42 percent said their feelings about LGBT people have become more accepting over the last five to 10 years. (Seven percent said they have become less accepting.)”
Kari Ellingson said, “It’s important to recognize victories when you have victories, even if they seem small. The LGBT community made progress through this election nationwide. Here in Utah they received some hard knocks last session yet, they know it is important to keep standing up for things that matter.”