Refugee Justice League, SLCPD work to help refugees feel comfortable with justice system

Story and photos by EMILY ANDERSON

When then 17-year-old Abdullahi “Abdi” Mohamed was shot by police in downtown Salt Lake City in 2016, a wave of shock washed over the community.

According to reports from The Salt Lake Tribune, police said Mohamed was involved in an altercation and armed with a metal broomstick. When police ordered him to drop the weapon, Mohamed appeared to attempt to hit the man he was fighting, so officers fired at him. Mohamed’s family later disputed these claims.

Hundreds mobilized in support of the Somali refugee and rallied against police brutality toward people of color. Meanwhile, many refugees living in the Salt Lake Valley were paralyzed with terror.

“Anytime there is a publicized law enforcement-refugee conflict, it reinforces the fear [of law enforcement],” said Brad Parker, one of the founders of the Refugee Justice League, in a telephone interview.

Abdi Mohamed was shot by Salt Lake City Police at 200 S. Rio Grande St.

Refugees frequently have negative memories of police in their home countries, according to Natalie El-Deiry, the deputy director of the International Rescue Committee (IRC) — one of the agencies that resettles refugees in Salt Lake City. Along with the military, law enforcement is commonly used to silence those who speak out against an oppressive government.

“One thing that is often the case with people who have fled persecution from another country is that they often didn’t have the protection of law enforcement when they fled,” El-Deiry said in a telephone interview. “So when people first arrive, there is definitely a skepticism or uncertainty around whether law enforcement is really there to protect you.”

Police officers frequently participate in behaviors considered war crimes by international organizations like Human Rights Watch. For example, Kenyan police officers repeatedly target Somali refugees with rape, arbitrary arrests and unlawful deportations.

Jodi Larson-Farrow of the Boise Agency for New Americans, which helps resettle refugees in Boise, Idaho, has interviewed recent refugees about their feelings toward police. Her research was included in a report on law enforcement relations with refugees released by the Police Executive Research Forum in May 2017. The words and phrases refugees most commonly associate with police, she found, are “fear, rapist, power, corruption, intimidation, no trust, they will beat you, they will take your life and run from them.”

“In addition to the language and cultural barriers that separate refugees and police in many U.S. localities, there is a deeper source of distrust that can hamper engagement from the outset,” read the report. “To fully understand the barriers that may stand in the way of building trust, U.S. police must be educated about the historical experiences of refugee communities with their native police forces.”

Refugees’ understanding of the U.S. justice system also tends to be influenced by the way criminal cases are handled in their country of origin. The Police Executive Research Forum’s report said that refugees’ home countries generally convict people of crimes more quickly than in the U.S. These experiences, the forum believes, led to confusion after Abdi Mohamed was shot.

“The Salt Lake City Police Department [SLCPD] discovered in the aftermath of a police-involved shooting of a refugee that members of the refugee community assumed there would be no consequences for the officer, simply because the investigation was still pending and they had not been aware of the process,” the report said. “As a result of this incident, the department recognized the need to expand their educational efforts to avoid confusion surrounding such issues in the future.”

After Abdi Mohamed was shot, SLCPD held town halls to assuage the fears of the refugee community and hosted Citizens Academy, which allows refugees and other Salt Lake City residents to learn how the department functions. SLCPD also has a refugee liaison, Detective Robert Ungricht, who attends community events in an effort to get to know refugees.

Ungricht said in a telephone interview that the department is working to bring refugees onto the force, but are running into problems because many refugees aren’t citizens. This is an issue that the Utah State Legislature, or even Congress, he said, would have to address.

“We’re trying our hardest,” Ungricht said. “We get told a lot that the refugee community sees that we’re really doing a lot more than some agencies. I’m happy to hear that they’re happy that we’re trying to fight for them and fight for their rights and give them these opportunities.”

The Salt Lake City Public Safety Building houses the Salt Lake City Police Department’s refugee liaison and Citizens Academy.

SLCPD attends orientation sessions given by the International Rescue Committee for newly-arrived refugees. Natalie El-Deiry said the police department has become an advocate for refugees who are feeling unsafe in the community.

“There’s always room for improvement, but I think [SLCPD] is doing a really great job,” El-Deiry said.

However, Brad Parker feels refugees in the Salt Lake Valley still struggle to rely on law enforcement. His group, the Refugee Justice League — a coalition of lawyers formed to defend refugees’ rights — is now trying to bridge that gap.

“The Salt Lake City Police Department has done a great job in an outreach effort to build trust with refugees,” Parker said. “The fear is just deep-seated enough that it hasn’t completely worked.”

The league was formed after President Donald Trump was elected, as some refugees faced harassment and were concerned about the prospect of Trump following through with threats to build a Muslim registry. Attorneys who have since joined the organization wanted to help represent refugees who feel they are being discriminated against or are in trouble. All lawyers working with the league do so pro bono.

If a refugee is at the police station, Parker said, an attorney will go meet with the refugee. The attorney will communicate that everything the refugee says is confidential and that the attorney’s priority is to help. If the refugee has been accused of a crime, the Refugee Justice League will then secure a criminal attorney. If needed, the representative will help the refugee communicate with police.

“In those cases, it’s a win-win. It’s a win for refugees, and it’s a win for law enforcement,” Parker said.

To help refugees navigate encounters with the police, the Refugee Justice League has distributed personalized cards. Each card includes the refugee’s name, photo and preferred language. It says that the cardholder is represented by an attorney from the Refugee Justice League and gives the refugee instructions on how to comply with law enforcement while protecting the person’s rights.

“We did the cards to help the refugees become more fully-engaged participants in the legal system,” Parker said. “It gives us the chance, as we assist them, to model appropriate behavior when you’re dealing with police — that is a polite, cooperative behavior in many instances.”

In order to receive the card, refugees must complete a training that instructs them on when it is appropriate to show it. The Refugee Justice League tells them not to use the cards in incidents like traffic stops or domestic disputes. Refugees are also taught how they are expected to react to police.

Parker said the organization had three goals in creating the cards — to protect refugees’ rights, to reduce fear and build trust and to enhance communication between refugees and law enforcement. Because refugees are often not yet citizens, giving police a false statement out of fear or not following instructions can result in a withdrawal of their refugee status and deportation.

“A lot of times if refugees are questioned by the police, they just clam up,” Parker said. “Sometimes they’ll pretend that they don’t understand the language — and sometimes they don’t. They’re worried that they might get in trouble for something they say, so they say nothing.”

When the card was first proposed, Ungricht worried that the cards would destroy the trust SLCPD has worked to develop with refugees.

“I was like, ‘That’s going to create some major tension,’” Ungricht said. “It’s going to knock down a lot of bridges that we’ve built in the [refugee] community.”

Since the league announced the program, they have worked with numerous groups including SLCPD, the International Rescue Committee and the American Civil Liberties Union to make changes to the card. El-Deiry said that through these conversations, the cards can accommodate all parties.

“I think that there is potential for [the cards] to be helpful,” said El-Deiry. “I think that there are some concerns around the Justice League actually working with law enforcement themselves to make sure that there is a unified voice around that, and those are some discussions that we’ve had and they’re ongoing.”

The Refugee Justice League believes that through the combined effort of SLCPD and attorneys, refugees will feel safer in the Salt Lake Valley. As a result, the league hopes refugees will be more cooperative and further integrated into the justice system and society.

But first, Parker said, law enforcement must continue to build relationships with refugees on an individual level.

“A lot of them are scared of talking to the police,” Parker said. “These psychological scars that they have aren’t just easily set aside. It’s hard to say, ‘Oh, don’t worry anymore, now the police are your friends.’ You can preach that all you want, but until they’ve had an experience that helps them realize that, there’s sort of this deep-seated fear that comes from their past.”

Ukrainians flee the iron fist

Story and photo by JACE BARRACLOUGH

“Me and my wife had to escape and almost got killed since we never supported Russia”

 

Protesters rally in the Maidan. Photo courtesy of Art Ira via Facebook.

The winter of 2013-14 changed the lives of Ukrainians forever. Thousands were displaced and forced to find shelter in either refugee camps located in more peaceful areas of Ukraine or across the border in Russia.

This happened when former Ukrainian President Yanukovych decided to back out of joining the European Union (EU), which would have allowed better trade with European countries and a step toward westernization.

Instead, Yanukovych rejoined with Russia. In the bitter cold, citizens took to the streets to protest the decision and demand the impeachment of their president.

Thousands of protesters filled the town square in Kiev, also known as the Maidan. Not even the Berkut (riot police) could force them out. A civil war erupted between the Berkut and protesters. It was then that President Yanukovych fled to Russia and gave the Russian military permission to take control of the situation.

As bombs shook some homes and demolished others, thousands of Ukrainians fled, only taking what they could fit inside the suitcases they would be carting around for months, potentially years.

According to the United Nations, there are over 2 million Ukrainians displaced and another 300,000 seeking asylum in neighboring countries.

Aden Batar, immigration and refugee resettlement director for Catholic Community Services, says that refugee camps are crowded and some of the tents may be filled to capacity, forcing people to make their own shelter using other resources.

Batar says one can receive refugee status for various reasons, but in the case of Alex Evgeniya — it was his political affiliation.

“We are refugees from Ukraine, but our status is still pending,” Alexey Evgeniya says.

Evgeniya and his wife are from Crimea, a peninsula that was part of Ukraine until Russia invaded in February 2014. Russia then decided to annex the peninsula making it its own.

“Me and my wife had to escape and almost got killed since we never supported Russia,” he says.

Along with their escape comes anonymity. They, as well as many other Ukrainian refugees, are reluctant to divulge information in fear of Russian intelligence intercepting any and all channels of communication, thus putting their own lives in danger.

Ukraine is no stranger to conflict. Ukraine fought for Germany in World War I. In World War II Ukrainians were divided. Some fought for Germany, others Russia and many for their own independence.

As a country pinned between the influences of the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, it seems they’ve battled a constant game of tug-of-war being pulled in all different directions. It wasn’t until 1991 that Ukraine declared its independence from the USSR.

However, in 1994 Ukraine signed an agreement to be protected by the Russian military. Thus, allowing Russia to once again grab hold.

“I feel that refugees [are] afraid to talk about their stories,” says Oleh Kernytsky, mission facilitator  at St. Jude Maronite Catholic Church in Murray. “It is not only for security reason[s], but they don’t want [to] go again through all troubles they had in the past.”

Kernytsky says most refugees he associates with tend to focus more on life since their resettlement and choose to leave the past where they believe it belongs — in the past.

One of Kernytsky’s congregation members was a professional bobsledder who trained for the Nagano, Japan, Winter Olympics. Though she was the superior athlete, another candidate bribed the officials and made the team instead.

She was discouraged but decided to continue training for the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics. This time she made the team.

It was unclear as to what the “bribe” entailed. However, it would be one of the major factors as to why she didn’t dare go back to Ukraine following the 2002 Olympics after making and competing in the bobsledding event she was denied four years prior.

Seeking asylum, she stayed in Utah and graduated from the University of Utah with a Ph.D. in physical therapy. She is now married with children and works as a physical therapist in Salt Lake City.

Class at the University of Utah.

It’s likely tough to imagine something good on the horizon when you are engulfed in such hostile and tense situations. But tragedy often helps one to understand and appreciate the most important things.

Aden Batar helps us to recognize most of those things aren’t necessarily tangible.

He says, “Peace is something you cannot buy.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

Good cop, good cop

By: Mike Haglund

With all the bad publicity and negative media, it’s hard to believe that anyone would want to put up with all of that. I talked with two individuals to discuss just that. Sergeant Bryan Peterson of the West Valley City Police, and Mario Widdowson, an intern for Unified Police currently under going the interview process to become an officer. For both of them, the desire to become a policemen started out as a child’s dream, and confirmed later in life when they had a positive interaction with a policeman.

For Sergeant Peterson, that experience came when he was in 5th grade he was a victim to an attempted mugging and had a knife held to his throat. “The detective assigned to my case” he said, “was very caring and worked very hard on my case. I was never able to ID the suspect, but the professionalism by the detective impacted me and my desire to be a police officer.”

“I want to be a policeman first and foremost” Widdowson explained, “because it was a police officer who had the most positive impact on my life when I was 18 years old and getting into trouble.” He also hopes to be accepted into the program so that he can have a positive influence on the community that he was raised in and have the opportunity to change a life like the officer who changed mine.

Two individuals with very different backgrounds, both with the desire to help their community. So why do the police have such big targets on their backs, and are put in such a negative light? As Widdowson and I discussed this question, we both agreed that where you grow up, and the experiences you have with the police have the most impact on your personal perception of them. We discussed that perhaps socioeconomic status played a big factor in crime. The majority of people don’t commit crimes because they’re bored, they do so out of necessity. If someone grows up in the projects of Baltimore and has negative interaction with the police from the time they’re very young, there’s a pretty good chance that they won’t grow up to respect the police.

We’re all human and humans make mistakes. When we make a mistake in school, we get a few points docked off our grade. At work when we make a mistake, your boss will bring you into their office and take corrective measures. Just like anywhere, there are good apples, and there are bad apples. But, when you are a public servant working out in public, everybody has their eyes on you, watching everything you do. When you do something wrong, people will pull out their cameras and start recording you, and in the blink of an eye that video will be posted on countless social media outlets. Soon enough it will be circling the news on a 24-hour cycle.

While talking with Sergeant Peterson, and Widdowson I asked them if their departments do anything from a public relations perspective to help counter all the negative media. Sergeant Peterson said that for a long time his department didn’t do anything PR wise, and thought that might have hurt them. They now have someone in charge of their social media, they have even posted pictures to Facebook of people they are trying to identify to get the public involved as well. Every summer, Unified Police holds an annual event called “Night Out Against Crime.” The goal of the event is to increase public awareness of crime prevention, build bridges between law enforcement and the community, and send the message to criminals that neighborhoods are organized and fighting back against crime. Widdowson also told me that they host a citizen’s academy where you take a class once a week for a few months and learn a variety of things that relate to police work. He says “people really do learn a lot from this experience and I would welcome anyone to go to it. You start to think more like a police officer and can better put yourself in their shoes.”

I asked Sergeant Peterson I asked him if there was anything the public can do to help change the effects of the negative media. He replied by saying, “I wish the public would ask the media for more heartwarming stories, or even call in to the media when they see good things happening. There are a lot of cops in the Salt Lake Valley doing a lot of good work that goes unnoticed.”

Tax incentives in Utah for hiring people with disabilities may go unnoticed

Story and photos by DYLAN LIERD

Federal and state tax credits aim to help Utah businesses hire people with disabilities. However, many companies may be unaware of the incentives that also strive to reduce the number of unemployed Utahns with disabilities.

Work Ability Utah, located at 1595 W. 500 South in Salt Lake City, advocates for unemployed Utahns with disabilities.

Work Ability Utah, located at 1595 W. 500 South in Salt Lake City, advocates for unemployed Utahns with disabilities.

According to Work Ability Utah, an organization that links employers with the workforce of people with disabilities, tax credits such as the Work Opportunity Tax Credit and the Utah Targeted Job Tax Credit are available for all businesses who are willing to hire Utahns with disabilities. But Carol Rudell, project director for Work Ability Utah, said not enough businesses are taking advantage of these credits.

“I see businesses that are perfectly willing to hire people with disabilities, but there are others that don’t know about the incentives,” Rudell said. “I see a lot of misses out there and a lot of stereotypes that are not true, and when people have more information they are more than happy to hire people with disabilities.”

The Work Opportunity Tax Credit is a federal tax credit that is designed to encourage cooperation with the Americans with Disabilities Act. According to Work Ability Utah’s website, businesses can earn an annual tax credit of $2,400 per hired person with a disability. Businesses can also earn a $9,000 yearly tax credit when hiring a disabled veteran. To receive these incentives, businesses must complete the Internal Revenue Service Form 8850 and the Employment and Training Administration Form 9061.

Businesses can also receive state tax credit by applying for the Targeted Job Tax Credit. According to the Utah State Tax Commission’s website, the purpose of its creation is to entice companies to hire people with disabilities in order to foster an integrated workforce.

The allotted credit minimizes the amount of income tax the business has to pay, and the amount of money the company receives is based on the salary paid to employed individuals. The maximum credit given is $3,000 per employee per year. This is a credit that can be received for the first two years that the person with a disability is employed. Companies are also not limited by the amount of individuals they can claim under the Targeted Job Tax Credit.

The Division of Services for People with Disabilities ensures the rights of Utahns with disabilities. DSPD is located at 195 N. 1950 West
 in Salt Lake City.

The Division of Services for People with Disabilities ensures the rights of Utahns with disabilities. DSPD is located at 195 N. 1950 West
 in Salt Lake City.

In order to apply for these services, the person with the disability must be eligible for services from the Division of Services for People with Disabilities. Businesses must then complete a TC-40HD form and have it approved by an authorized representative from DSPD.

Tricia Jones-Parkin is the program administrator for DSPD. She is the authorized person who accepts these tax credit forms. Jones-Parkin is tasked with training job coaches and approving businesses that apply for the Targeted Job Tax Credit. Job coaches are responsible for teaching employers how to professionally treat people with disabilities, and how employers can receive tax credits by hiring Utahns with disabilities. However, she said more businesses should be taking advantage of The Targeted Job Tax Credit.

“I haven’t received a single form turned into me this year,” said Jones-Parkin in a phone interview. “When I do training for job coaches, I tell them to tell businesses about the Targeted Job Tax Credit, but there is still not many businesses that do.”

Jones-Parkin also said that nationally, people with disabilities are the most under employed demographic. In Utah, the state is not doing much better than the national average.

According to the Department of Labor’s website, the unemployment rate for people with disabilities is 13.1 percent. This is more than double the unemployment rate for people without disabilities, which is 6.8 percent. That is why Jones-Parkins said that beyond the tax credits that Utah businesses receive, it is important to hire Utahns with disabilities in order to reduce this number.

In Utah, the Governor’s Committee on Employment of People with Disabilities works to advocate the importance of hiring people with disabilities to employers.

Leslee Hintze, executive director for the Governor’s Committee, said its members speak to employers about the tax benefits for hiring people with disabilities in order to entice businesses to hire these individuals.

“Once we advocate tax incentives to employers who have a tendency to say, ‘I don’t know if I can take this on,’ they are more likely to hire and continue to hire people with disabilities,” Hintze said in a phone interview. “Businesses really find out that they are great employees, they make the workplace better and they really do a lot for the business they are working for.”

According to the Committee’s website, businesses will also not see their Worker’s Compensation Insurance or Medicaid Insurance rates rise when they hire people with disabilities. Regardless of the incentives, Hintze said it also benefits the U.S. economy to hire people with disabilities so they can contribute financially to society.

“People with disabilities can give back tenfold by becoming taxpayers, which means they will become tax producers and not tax users,” Hintze said. “A country that does not take care of its least fortunate citizens, to me is pretty deplorable. It is a moral imperative, which is why businesses should be looking for opportunities like these because everyone will benefit.”

The potential effects of marriage for people with disabilities

Story and graphic by ANGIE BRADSHAW

Costs of cerebral palsy

For most people, getting married is the happiest day of their life. But for Utahns with disabilities, it means something much more complex.

It means they could lose all their state-funded benefits or they could be substantially decreased. Most people in online articles refer to this as the “marriage penalty.” This leaves individuals to choose between marriage and continuing to receive benefits. Furthermore, many people in online articles also believe this is an “anti-family” law and that something should be done about it.

The Utah state government assists single people with disabilities to help cover costs and provide additional accommodations where needed. This could be through Medicaid, Medicare, Social Security Disability Insurance or Social Security Income.

“The theory is that a couple can live on less income together than they would as individuals,” wrote B.J. Stasio, an advocate on gaining awareness for this topic. Furthermore, Stasio wrote, “The marriage penalty is misdirected and wrong because it prevents may people with disabilities from getting married or even staying married. People with disabilities deserve to be able to get married to the one they love.”

But what happens when that’s not the case or both individuals have disabilities?

Carly Fahey, a senior at the University of Utah, has cerebral palsy, a developmental disability.

She was born healthy, but her lungs were slightly underdeveloped so she stayed in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit in Florida for the first few weeks of her life. Fahey said it was there that the nurse administered a little too much oxygen, resulting in a neurological block to a portion of her brain. This caused a lapse in communication between her brain and her motor movements, specifically her legs and feet.

She has to use a walker to assist her in getting around. She said it also affects many parts of her body. For instance, she can’t control her body temperature and her eye coordination can become constrained and shifty. This can cause anxiety and severe migraines.

On a lighter note, Fahey said in an email interview, “I see the cerebral palsy as one of the brighter and more fun things about myself. There’s never a dull moment and I keep a really humorous outlook on things. I do everything that any college student would be planning on doing, except because of my disability … I always have a plan!”

Fahey says that many people with disabilities wait a very long time before getting married or decide not to do it all because of the negative impact it could have on their lives.

She has a friend with a similar disability who told Fahey how much she feels like she will have to give up — just for her right to get married. It can be quite the dilemma because the personal insurance companies are reluctant to insure individuals when they know that the state provides those insurance benefits already, Fahey said.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the average lifetime costs for someone with cerebral palsy are estimated at $921,000. To break this down, it’s approximately $742,326 for indirect costs, $93,942 for direct medical costs and $84,732 for direct non-medical costs. This does not include emergency room visits and out-of-pocket expenditures. The dilemma can be overwhelming in deciding what’s the best option for all interested parties.

Of all the difficult things Fahey has encountered, the marriage issues will be one of the biggest challenges for her to navigate, she said.

“I’m confident that marriage will be wonderful,” Fahey said, “but figuring out the legal details will be an obstacle for sure. Something needs to be done.”

Utah organizations for people with disabilities see need for financial improvement

Story and photos by DYLAN LIERD

Under the mandates of the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Utah State Legislature authorized more than $215 million to assist people with disabilities in Utah. However, organizations like the Division of Services for People with Disabilities and TURN Community Services Inc. still cannot provide assistance for all.   

According to the DSPD’s website, it is the main source of assistance for Utahns with disabilities. The DSPD serves more than 4,000 individuals, and helps fund some of the more than 50 for profit and nonprofit organizations that provide assistance for people with disabilities.

According to a source in DSPD’s financial department who asked not to be identified, more than 1,900 citizens are still on DSPD’s waiting list. He said that for those who currently receive services, the $215 million is not enough to finance the needs of all Utahns with disabilities.  

“We have half as many people on the waiting list that we are able to serve,” said the source in a phone interview. “The limit of financial assistance was not created from the sequester or the federal government. The legislature appropriated what they could, but there is not enough tax dollars to fill all of the need.”

Consequently, DSPD must determine whether a person is eligible for assistance by evaluating the severity of an applicant’s disability. According to DSPD’s website, individuals who have an IQ of 70 or lower lack daily living skills, which impairs their ability to grapple with the demands of daily life. For that reason, they will receive assistance, or will be prioritized on the waiting list.

The same is true for those who have physical disabilities or brain injuries. Funding for physical disabilities is based on functional loss of limbs, and if the loss is for a continuous period. For brain injuries, the severity of the physical trauma or non-traumatic injury is used to justify the individual’s need to receive services. Preferences are not given to any disability, but priorities are given to applicants who have the most needs.

People who receive financial support are more often long-term recipients. Applicants on the waiting list can only receive financial assistance when there is an increased amount of legislative allotment, or if a recipient dies or moves out of the state.

Eliza Detherage gathers information concerning people with disabilities and TURN.

Eliza Detherage gathers information concerning people with disabilities and TURN.

Eliza Detherage, director of operations for TURN Community Services, said too many people are being turned away from receiving funding due to a lack of revenue.  

“Around 3 percent of the population have a disability in the United States,” Detherage said. “If the population of Utah is around 2 million, then 60,000 people have a disability in Utah, but only a few meet the requirements.”

TURN Community Services employs more than 475 full- and part-time workers, and provides supervised living and 24-hour group homes for people with disabilities. According to TURN’s website, the nonprofit provides summer camps for kids and helps people with disabilities find job opportunities from a variety of employers. A contract with DSPD largely funds TURN Community Services, and for 2013, its budget is more than $14 million. The budget provides financing for supported employment, day programs, respite care, host homes and other services.

According to a document posted on TURN’s website about the contractual agreement with DSPD, it must be an approved Medicaid provider to allow DSPD to bill Medicaid for TURN’s services. Detherage said Medicaid is an essential service for people with disabilities and for TURN. Included with Medicaid, Supplemental Security Income and Social Security disability programs also help fund the costs of TURN’s programs. Detherage said less than 1 percent of TURN’s clients are on SSI or the disability programs. That means few receive additional funding.

“On a broad scale, when you look at people with disabilities, everything we receive is essential. Should there be more? Absolutely,” Detherage said. “I get about 10 calls a week from people that are absolutely desperate, but I know those people are not going to be eligible for services, and if they were eligible, they would just be sitting on the waiting list.”

Areas where TURN helps Utahns with disabilities.

Areas where TURN helps Utahns with disabilities.

Individuals on SSI receive $710 a month, an amount set by Utah law. Detherage said this is the only amount that many people with disabilities have. Therefore, because many people with disabilities cannot work, she said she believes the state legislature must appropriate more funding in order to shrink DSPD’s waiting list and allocate more to SSI beneficiaries.

Mike Bullson is a lawyer at Utah Legal Services. “The monthly benefit is limited, but the only way to receive greater amounts of funding is to allocate more money before being unable to work,” Bullson said in a phone interview. “This would help bring a lot of people out of poverty, but [it] is hard for disabled individuals to do.”

The source at DSPD said the amount of tax revenue the state receives does not allow the state legislature to allocate greater amounts of funding to Utahns with disabilities. Until legislators approve additional funding, organizations like DSPD and TURN Community Services must continue to work with their current funding. And that means many on DSPD’s waiting list will continue to remain there.

Is the LGBT equality movement the civil rights movement of the 21st century?

Story and slideshow by RENEE ESTRADA

Explore the Utah Pride Center and the Office for Equity and Diversity.

Throughout America’s history there have been movements toward equality. Americans who felt alienated or limited by the government protested, petitioned and fought for their rights.

The African-American civil rights movement followed after and spanned three decades, the 50s, 60s and 70s.

Currently, the LGBT equality movement is under way. The basis of the equality movement is to allow gay, lesbian and transgender couples the right to marry and all the rights that come with it, including, but not limited to health insurance benefits, tax benefits and estate filings.

According to David Frum of the Daily Beast, proponents of marriage equality have called it the “civil rights movement of our time.”

Not everybody is happy about this, including Frum and Jack Hunter, another conservative opinion columnist.

In Hunter’s article, “Why Gay Marriage isn’t the 60’s Civil Right’s Fight,” he argues, “There have been instances during the gay-rights movement that arguably could be compared to the black civil rights struggle, like the Stonewall riots of the 1960s or Matthew Shepard murder in 1998. … Still, with the possible exception of the mistreatment of Native Americans, there has been nothing quite like the systematic exploitation and institutional degradation experienced by earlier black Americans.”

Edward Buendía, an associate professor in the ethnic studies department at the University of Utah, disagrees with this notion.

“One of the arguments, against this movement as a civil rights movement, is that you don’t have lynching,” Buendía said in a phone interview. “Yes, there are not gay people being lynched, but we do have individuals that have lost their lives. Some people believe you have to be on the same level of scope to legitimize it and from my point of view, one life is too many to lose.”

In Frum’s article, “Let’s not call marriage equality the civil rights movement of our time,” he argues, “And while homosexuality has always had a large stigma attached to it, the number of gay people denied a job because of their sexuality just utterly pales in comparison to the number of black people denied jobs because of their skin color.”

Frum’s statement brings up another point. You can see when someone is African American. Meanwhile, you cannot see that someone is a homosexual.

The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People has endorsed same-sex marriage. According to a statement from the organization, “The NAACP Constitution affirmatively states our objective to ensure the ‘political, education, social and economic equality’ of all people. Therefore, the NAACP has opposed and will continue to oppose any national, state, local policy or legislative initiative that seeks to codify discrimination or hatred into the law or to remove the Constitutional rights of LGBT citizens.”

Regarding the endorsement, NAACP President and CEO Benjamin Todd Jealous said at a press conference, “Civil marriage is a civil right and a matter of civil law. The NAACP’s support for marriage equality is deeply rooted in the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution and equal protection of all people.”

In 2004, Utah residents voted to amend the state constitution to include a ban on same-sex marriage. In 2013, three couples challenged it. One of the couples is married in Iowa, but the marriage is not recognized in Utah.

Considering the Advocate, a national gay and lesbian news magazine, named Salt Lake City the gayest city in America in 2012, the statewide same-sex marriage ban is interesting. Granted some of the criteria were more humorous than serious, but the title still revealed Salt Lake City has a large, active, gay community.

“They [same-sex marriage bans] don’t make sense. They are restrictive and anti-people, because anytime the government says, you as a people, even though you didn’t do anything wrong, we are going to deem your existence illegal. That’s discrimination, and that’s wrong,” said Max Green, Equality Utah’s advocacy coordinator.

Green also offers another point. He believes the equality movement is taking an approach that is not seen very often. Supporters and advocates are tackling the most challenging aspect, and then moving on to more basic issues.

“This is the first time we’ve seen a sort of top down approach to an equality movement,” Green said. “In all other movements we’re seen bottom up. With the Civil rights movement, it was let’s start with something like desegregating the buses and desegregating schools, and then desegregating the military … so they went from the base up to the top. With the marriage equality movement it’s really starting at the top and going down, which is an interesting way to do things.”

Civil unions are offered as an alternative to same-sex marriage.

Thomas Allen Harris, who directed and produced a short documentary titled, “Marriage Equality,” disagrees with this alternative.

During an interview with NPR, Harris said that civil unions create a second-class label for gays and lesbian couples, making them less than heterosexual couples.

Some same-sex marriage advocates, including the three couples who are challenging Utah’s same-sex marriage ban, believe these bans are illegal, because of the decision affirmed by Loving v. Virginia.

The case Loving v. Virginia dealt with the legality of interracial marriage. According to a story in Slate, Mildred Loving and Richard Loving were sentenced to one year in prison for violating Virginia’s anti-miscegenation statute, the Racial Integrity Act of 1924. Eventually the Supreme Court ruled that the act violated the Due Process Clause and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. It was clear in the decision of the court that the Justices found this to issue to be a civil rights issue.

In 2007, Mildred Loving issued a statement for her support of same-sex marriage.

“I believe all Americans, no matter their race, no matter their sex, no matter their sexual orientation, should have that same freedom to marry … said Loving. I am still not a political person, but I am proud that Richard’s and my name is on a court case that can help reinforce the love, the commitment, the fairness and the family that so many people, black or white, young or old, gay or straight, seek in life.”

Some say Loving v. Virginia has paved the way for Hollingsworth v. Perry, given their similarities.

Hollingsworth v. Perry is a case that was heard by the US Supreme Court on March 25, 2013. Plaintiffs argued Proposition 8, a voter-approved initiative to ban same-sex marriage in California, violated the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution.

The decision of Hollingsworth v. Perry will not be out until June 2013. It seems until then Americans will have to see if the court deems same-sex marriage to be a civil rights issue.

Buendía sees the legal aspect is where the two movements intersect and share the most similarities. There were been many legal battles over segregation, and there are ongoing legal battles over LGBT rights, including housing and workplace rights.

While the movements bear some resemblances, it is clear there are distinct differences.

“We have to be careful of the significant difference for some people around race and color versus gender and sexual orientation,” Green said. “For some people those qualities don’t mix. We have to respect that and be aware not to rob someone of their identity.”