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.”

Inequality for same-sex couples in Utah’s laws

Story and photo by ADRIENNE PURDY

“It sucks. It’s just really, really sucky,” Brandie Balken says.

Balken is the executive director of Equality Utah and she has something to say about the lack of fairness of laws in Utah.

For instance, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals can be evicted or fired because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Access to healthcare for LGBT couples is limited and adoption in Utah as a same-sex couples is impossible.

It is legal to fire or evict LGBT people in Utah today. It is legal to discriminate against someone because they are or are perceived as LGBT.

Equality Utah Foundation, based in Salt Lake City, is an organization that aims to educate the general public and the LGBT community alike about issues impacting the LGBT community. It also works at passing legislation and raising awareness.

According to the American Civil Liberties Union, Utah’s laws make it illegal to discriminate based on sexual orientation in public employment, which means it is legal to discriminate based on gender identity in public employment, and to discriminate based on gender identity and sexual orientation in non-public employment.

The Utah legislative session is scheduled to begin Jan. 28, 2013.

Utah’s laws are way behind the 17 other states whose laws prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in any form in employment.

The Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) is a pending federal legislation that would protect individuals from discrimination in employment based on an individual’s sexual orientation.

While some states are forward thinking in having equality among all Americans, some states and some national legislation have yet to catch up. This same problem is happening with adoption by same-sex couples in Utah.

According to the Human Rights Campaign second-parent adoption, or adopting the child of a partner, is a legal option in 18 states, a petition option in eight and a possibility in others.

But not in Utah.

A joint adoption, where the couple adopts a child from the biological parents or a child in the custody of the state is a legal option in 18 states, a petition option in two and a possibility in others.

But not in Utah.

Utah is one of two states that prohibit adoption by gay and lesbian couples. The legislation bans any unmarried couple from adopting and since same-sex marriage is not legal in Utah this law extends to the LGBT community.

As Balken says, it is possible to help raise a child for years and still be a legal stranger to that child. Although adoption by same-sex couples is not legal in Utah, it is recognized if completed outside of Utah.

Rocky Dustin, a freelance court reporter, says he does not come across many cases involving same-sex adoptions in part because it’s very uncommon in Utah and adoption legislation has a long way to go.

While Utah may be behind in the adoption aspect, it is much more represented in the case of healthcare.

The Healthcare Equality Index is an annual healthcare survey that rates respondents on their policies related to LGBT patients. Hospitals and clinics are rated based on non-discrimination, visitation and employment non-discrimination policies and training on LGBT care.

The University of Utah Hospitals and Clinics system was a respondent in the poll and qualified in two of the four requirements. This illustrates that as a major health provider in Utah, it is taking steps to improve availability and patient care to all Utahns.

The healthcare system did not, however, meet the requirement for the visitation policy, which “grants same-sex couples the same access as different sex couples.” This includes access to one’s partner as well as children under 18. Until Utah state laws catch up, the Healthcare Equality Index score will remain unchanged.

In 2011 the Salt Lake City School District added medical coverage for domestic partners of district employees. This is the first school district in the state of Utah to do so.

In addition to medical insurance, medical power of attorney is a critical aspect of equality in Utah. For a gay or lesbian couple to be able to have medical power of attorney for their partner, it requires a very expensive process of having multiple documents drawn up to prove that they are indeed able to make those medical decisions. Different-sex couples do not have this problem.

In a phone interview, Peter Asplund, an associate general counsel for the Office of Legislative Research and General Counsel, said, “There are automatic rights with marriage and medical power of attorney is one of them, except in the case of same-sex couples,” he said.

Although laws in Utah regarding equality may be lacking, the overall climate of attitudes toward the LGBT community is changing.

”Forty-two percent said that they have become more accepting,” Balken said, referencing a poll commissioned by the Human Rights Campaign in 2011. “And more than three-fourths now support anti-discrimination laws.”

Equality across the nation and in Utah has been a long time coming and still has a ways to go. But Balken is confident it will happen.

“We saw it first with gender and then race,” Balken said. “This is the next human rights movement.”

Bill defines human rights: equality vs. morality

by YEVGENIYA KOPELEVA

When Equality Utah, a nonprofit political organization in Salt Lake City that advocates for the LGBT community, asked Rep. Christine Johnson, D-Salt Lake City, to take on the employment non-discrimination bill protecting sexual orientation and gender identity, she agreed. Then she hung up the phone and began to cry.

“It’s going to be difficult to pass this law, but it’s the beginning of a conversation and a learning curve to educate others,” Johnson said.

An event sponsored by the Department of Communication and the University of Utah’s Debate Team was designed to do just that. On Nov. 15, 2007, politicians, students, faculty and staff gathered in the Reed Auditorium at the U to discuss the significance of equality. “Debating Discrimination” created dialogue about the following resolution: “Should the state of Utah pass legislation establishing protections from discrimination regarding sexual orientation and identity in the workplace?”

Johnson began her eight-minute perspective on the resolution by noting, “Working Americans should be judged on one criterion and one criterion alone, job performance not prejudice.” She said that 33 years after the first federal employment non-discrimination bill passed, the country has slowly progressed toward understanding the definition of discrimination and establishing equality to all. She encouraged everyone to give voice to the minority and protect everyone. “Another civil rights movement shall begin tonight,” Johnson said.

Anastasia Niedrich, representing the U’s Debate Team on the affirmative team, asked the audience how long the GLBTQ population must wait before Congress passes legislation to ensure equal rights in the workplace. “People are simply trying to be who they are and they need to be protected now because equality is right,” Niedrich said.

Chrissy Hayes, another member of the affirmative team, reassured the audience by saying equality is the top priority for the Utah State Legislature. She said GLBTQ issues are more important than education, poverty and health care, and through this resolution, Utah can set the precedent for the nation. “Utah is fighting for what is right – the principle America upholds above all others, equality,” Hayes said. Many GLBTQ people go to work every day in fear of losing health care and other benefits because of someone discovering their identity, she said. “Individuals should be judged on competency, not sexual orientation or gender identity.”

Her third point reflected the idea that as a large minority in Utah, the GLBTQ population can have a significant effect on the economy where tax revenue and cash flow will benefit all of Utah. The passage of the law would improve the quality of life for the GLBTQ population and give them equal rights to voice their opinions. Hayes concluded with a quote from John F. Kennedy: “Those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future.”

U student Danielle Hughes, on the opposition team, said the law would raise controversial issues that don’t correspond with the morals of many Utahns. In particular, she added that the majority of the Latter-day Saints in Utah would not support the bill. “If we wait for Congress to strengthen the laws, then Utah would most likely pass this bill,” Hughes said.

Near the end of the deliberation, Nina Hall, Hughes’ debate partner, made three contrasting points about the resolution. First, the current laws protect everyone in Utah and passing this bill is a waste of time, energy and focus. Instead, she said the money being spent on fighting the bill should be allocated to more essential issues like education, poverty and health care. “The plan would cause backlash in Utah because changing the mindsets of Utahns would be impossible,” she said. Hall also said businesses and employers will be negatively affected if the law passes. Finally, she recommended keeping the status quo and letting change happen on a federal level.

Sen. Chris Buttars, R-West Jordan, who in 2004 co-sponsored the constitutional Amendment 3, that defined marriage as “only the legal union between a man and a woman,” proudly defended traditional values, saying the law would cause many lawsuits. “I am going to get to the point like I usually do: It’s wrong, wrong, wrong,” he said.

Buttars contradicted himself by saying he will fight against Amendment 3 if it reappears before the Senate, while noting he doesn’t believe in discrimination because “discrimination is wrong and those who discriminate need to be punished.” Buttars questioned what would happen if this subgroup were to be accepted and how the passage of the bill would affect others. While Amendment 3 is, in fact, discriminatory, he also said he didn’t believe individuals who say, “Because we are born that way, you can’t discriminate against us.”

Gayle Ruzicka, president of the Utah Eagle Forum, defended Buttars by reiterating the importance of protecting order and morality in the state of Utah. “We have the responsibility to preserve the moral values of the people,” she said.

On the other hand, Will Carlson, manager of public policy for Equality Utah, said a healthy economy depends on rational decision-making, welcoming people who are the innovators and creators. “You discourage competency while promoting secrecy and distrust within the workplace,” Carlson said. By emphasizing the golden rule in which every religion believes in the importance of treating everyone with dignity and respect, he reinforced the importance of employees having the right to be judged on competency, not on their sexual orientation or gender identity. “It’s the inclusion from all church leaders that says morality calls for the passage to this law,” Carlson said.

Although 19 states, the District of Columbia and 150 cities and towns protect the LGBT community in the workplace, it took Colorado eight years to pass the law. Johnson thinks it will take at least 15 years for the state of Utah to give equal rights to the LGBT population. “The [Utah State Legislature] is going to chew me up and spit me out, but I am willing to get beat up knowing that I will initiate change and create dialogue,” she said.

According to the results of the debate, 44 out of 145 people believed the bill is unnecessary. “I would have been interested in speaking with those who oppose the bill so I could ask them if their thoughts remained the same after hearing all the positions,” Johnson said. She believes the process of educating people is a very slow and arduous one. “The U of U event is another step in hearing one another and learning.”

Johnson, a former Equality Utah board member, continues to work closely with the organization.

“As our strategy for the 2008 session took shape, it was determined that Rep. Johnson would be the best person to sponsor the [employment non-discrimination] bill in the House of Representatives,” said Mike Thompson, executive director of Equality Utah. “Her performance on the ‘Debating Discrimination’ panel is a perfect demonstration of her passion for the issue.”

 

SIDEBAR: Rep. Christine Johnson aims to make a difference

In 2004, when Sen. Chris Buttars, R-West Jordan, sponsored a marriage recognition policy bill, which defined marriage as “only of the legal union between a man and a woman,” Christine “Chris” Johnson was so upset she wrote a document in the middle of the night to be presented the next day at the capitol.

At the time, Sen. Karen Hale, D-Salt Lake City, sided with the Republicans on the proposed bill. In an effort to convince Hale that her constituents were not opposed to civil unions, Johnson stood outside of her local grocery store in the snow to get 100 signatures from people who wanted Hale to vote against the bill. She succeeded and went on to testify against the bill at the committee hearing. “I simply said that my homosexuality wasn’t a choice, but rather a reflection of my authentic self,” Johnson said. “I spoke of my love for my partner and daughter, and even though the sponsor felt his God condemned my commitment, my God approved completely.” She told the committee that morality is subjective and it is not the place of government to legislate morality.

Johnson and her family were interviewed by local media because they were the only gay family to testify. “We were on the news the next morning and my family became advocates for the gay and lesbian community,” said Johnson about her first steps into the field of politics.

Wanting to effect positive change and make a difference, she aimed to be a part of the capitol. In November 2006, Johnson was the only female running against six other candidates. With a 75.4 percent winning margin, she was elected to serve the residents of District 25 as a representative in the Utah House of Representatives. “The LGBT community got me elected into office,” said Johnson, a proud lesbian, single mother and activist.

“I respect anyone on the hill who is out and proudly fighting for equal rights,” said Bonnie Owens, staff intern at the LGBT Resource Center at the University of Utah.

For Rep. Johnson, D-Salt Lake City, the most difficult aspects of running a campaign was to raise the money to win and ask people to vote for her. “Authority is assumed and then respected when you are confident,” Johnson said. “People saw that I was passionate and voted for me.”

She believes everyone should have the right to live with authenticity – whether it is a man wearing makeup or a woman wearing men’s clothing. “You need to put your foot down when you feel something wrong inside you,” she said about standing up for your one’s values and beliefs.

Johnson supports public and higher education, women’s reproductive rights, literacy and minority issues, health care, open-space preservation and air quality. “It’s about portraying your passion with your heart,” Johnson said. 

Realizing the small progress she has made in the House as a female, Johnson created the Women’s Leadership Project in hopes of giving voice to a minority. “We don’t have enough minority voices in politics,” Johnson said. By visiting classrooms within her district, she encourages females to think about being community leaders in politics. After demonstrating how a bill winds through the process, Johnson asks students to write a paragraph about the significance of women and minorities in the government. The teacher selects the best paper and the winner gets to shadow Johnson at the capitol for a day.

Johnson spends her weekdays answering at least 50 e-mails a day, speaking with three to four organizations that want her attention, attending interim sessions every Wednesday and making a living through real estate. Despite this busy schedule, she said, “It is simply the labor of love and creating change in this state.”

She has a 15-year-old daughter, Olivia, who is a sophomore at Judge Memorial High School. Olivia dances 14 hours a week with the Ballet West Academy, gets straights A’s, is open-minded and educates herself on a variety of issues.

In her free time, Johnson enjoys cooking, spending time with her daughter and volunteering in the community. For example, Headstart, a program that assists children with literacy skills, recently invited Johnson to visit and play with the pre-school children.

She expects to continue fighting for equality and making a difference, but change does not come without personal sacrifice. “It’s been hard to balance professional and personal life,” she said. 

TEA of Utah

by JENNIFER MORGAN

Teinamarie Nelson and Rebecca Wilder were having lunch one day and discussing an issue they heard about from the media regarding transgender people that they thought was unfair. The two women wanted to do something to help transgender people and those who interact with them so they didn’t make the news the same way. They decided to form a nonprofit organization but, it wasn’t until Christopher Scuderi came on board that things started moving.

Transgender Education Advocates, or TEA (pronounced “T”), was established in 2003 as a volunteer organization. It is an affiliate program of the Utah Pride Center and its mission is “to educate the public on transgender issues for better understanding and awareness of discrimination towards the transgender population.”

TEA offers a Gender 101 class, which aims to make people aware of individuals who don’t fit the binary gender system. Scuderi said 50 percent of the classes they teach are requested while the other half are through TEA’s outreach efforts. Because TEA doesn’t have an office of its own, classes are offered in the Utah Pride Center or at the organization receiving the training.

One group that received the Gender 101 training recently was the Public Safety Liaison Committee. PSLC is a group of individuals in service-related professions, including firefighters, police officers and EMTs that aim to educate those in their field about LGBT issues. Rachel Hanson of the Utah Pride Center and Scuderi conducted the training for PSLC, which lasted about an hour and half. Hanson felt it was a success because people openly talked a lot about biases and other subjects that came up during the presentation. Another good gauge for determining whether the training went well, is if participants feel free to ask questions. “I can often tell when people feel comfortable because they ask questions without worrying about sounding dumb,” she said. “A lot of people don’t understand transgender people.”

Gary Horenkamp, PSLC’s co-chair, said the training was “a well-organized, well-presented learning activity” with useful information that he hadn’t heard anywhere before. Horenkamp also is the project leader for OUTreach Ogden, which supports the “personal growth, acceptance and equality” of LGBTQ people and serves Box Elder, Morgan, Weber and Davis Counties. Gender 101 classes are available throughout the year, but TEA also hosts special events.

During November, TEA hosted a number of events in recognition of Transgender Awareness Month. For 2007 it brought in two speakers to provide workshops for medical and legal students and professionals. TEA also observes the Day of Remembrance annually on Nov. 20 with a candlelight vigil. The memorial commemorates transgender people who have lost their lives due to hate-crime violence.

Although it wasn’t a hate crime, Scuderi tells of an individual who was involved in a car accident that died because of a lack of understanding. When paramedics arrived they had to cut away clothing and when they discovered the genitalia of the victim didn’t match the rest of their appearance they were shocked. Apparently they laughed and poked fun but never helped, which resulted in the victim’s death. Some people have a hard time seeking medical help because they don’t know how they will be treated.

In the Salt Lake City medical community there are four family doctors who advertise that they treat transgender patients, but only one, Dr. Nicola Riley, is still accepting new patients. The others had to stop because their practices were too large. Riley received TEA’s 2006 award for Individual of the Year, while Equality Utah was given the Organization of the Year award for its work. Riley received this award partly because of her willingness to continue accepting transgender patients.

If a transgender person decides to have gender reassignment surgery, or GRS, they may have a difficult time finding a surgeon as well. Scuderi estimates there are a dozen throughout the United States, but none are in Utah. The closest surgeons are in Colorado, California or Arizona. Outside of the country, Thailand has the most GRS surgeons because of its progressive views regarding gender.

TEA’s 2007 keynote speaker, Dr. Marci Bowers, has a waiting list of 150 people. Her practice is located in Trinidad, Colo., which is the “transgender capital of the world” according to the city welcome sign. Born Mark Bowers, she transitioned later in life after marrying and having children although she had thoughts about becoming a woman by the age of 5. Bowers has helped more than 500 patients through this process and is considered a world-renowned surgeon. She has been a guest on “Oprah” and “Larry King Live.”

Locating a surgeon is just one challenge facing individuals. Securing funding also can be problematic. Many people can only afford changes from the waist up and can feel incomplete because of it. A few insurance companies cover GRS, but it has to be written into the plan. For male-to-female surgery, Scuderi estimates the cost ranges from $8,000 to $22,000. Female-to-male surgery costs considerably more: $30,000 to $150,000.

Because the costs are out of reach for many, TEA established the Cans For Change program. Aluminum cans are collected for recycling and the money goes toward a scholarship. The scholarship fund was developed to help with a portion of general reassignment surgery costs for an individual on a need basis. You can e-mail TEA to arrange a pick up of clean cans any time. While it has yet to raise enough to consider applicants, TEA hopes to have $1,000 soon for this purpose.

Due to confidentiality and stigma, few statistics are available on the transgender population. But Scuderi and Rachel Hanson believe the transgender youth population is growing. They think this is partly due to the media. Films such as “Boys Don’t Cry” and Barbara Walter’s segment on “20/20” bring exposure to the transgender community. Also, the Internet provides a forum for youth to discuss their lives and issues in a safe environment.

Hanson is the youth director at the Utah Pride Center and facilitates the transgender youth group that meets weekly. She said many transgender people are not receiving support from family or friends so they are at a higher risk for suicide and other self-destructive behavior than gay and lesbian youth.

Utah law doesn’t allow the promotion of homosexuality in schools. Hanson says that when they have approached schools to educate them they often shy away from the training because they’re afraid it’ll fall under the “promotion” of alternative lifestyles.

Scuderi says TEA has had conversations with two school boards. “We’ve contacted most of them, but they’ve either declined or haven’t returned emails or phone calls.”

On campus and elsewhere, the most obvious place transgender people encounter problems is the bathrooms. If a female has male genitalia and goes into the boy’s bathroom she’s more likely to have a problem than using a girl’s restroom.

Another place that is high risk for transgender people is correctional facilities. Currently when someone is picked up they are placed in holding cells based on their genitalia. Because their outward appearance is generally different than those their holed up with, they become easy targets for harassment or worse. Horenkamp said there was a senior officer from SLCPD at the Gender 101 training and he felt it was well received.

Student embodies center’s core values of social justice

Story and photo by JAIME WINSTON

Construction is particularly loud outside the offices of the University of Utah’s Center for Ethnic Student Affairs.

Visitors to the office take a longer route due to the work being done to improve the Union building, which houses CESA. Despite the inconvenience, students inside the offices are building relationships and a support base.

According to CESA’s mission statement, the group assists ethnic students in navigating cultural, economic, social and institutional barriers. Valery Pozo, peer mentor for the program, embodies these principles, Luciano Marzulli said.

“She is a scholar, highly intelligent, well organized and really dedicated to our core values like social justice, equity and education,” said Marzulli, CESA Latina/o Program Coordinator.

In addition to working at CESA, Pozo is a resident advisor at the university’s Benchmark residence halls and co-chair for the campus branch of Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlan — MEChA. She is in her third year at the university and vocal about issues regarding Latina/o students.valery-pozo

Pozo said after she earns an undergraduate degree in history, she plans to pursue a master’s degree at Arizona State University and become a high school counselor. “Counselors have a vital role in students’ careers and students’ futures,” she said.

Pozo was born in Salt Lake City, but her parents are originally from Peru. When they came to Utah, they worked for another couple who discouraged them from teaching Pozo Spanish. The employers felt it would hold Pozo back. Now she is learning the language at school, but some instructors have assumed she already knows it and is looking for easy credit.

“I’ve been asked if I know Spanish and to leave the class because it’s not fair to the other students,” she said.

Students experiencing similar struggles often visit Pozo at CESA. One student approached Pozo because her parents were pressuring her to go into a science field even though she did not enjoy it. Eventually, the parents realized their daughter needed to make her own decisions about the direction her life takes.

Pozo’s mother inspired her daughter’s path in life. “I don’t think she realizes it, but my mother influenced me a lot in how I want to frame my life in social justice,” Pozo said. Her mother talked to her at a young age about issues like the United Fruit Company’s presence in South America and listened to news and political debates with her.

“When I was younger I was listening to the 1996 Democratic presidential debates and I rooted for Bill Clinton like no other,” Pozo said. She is now supporting the candidacy of Hillary Clinton and met Chelsea Clinton when she campaigned for her mother at the university in January.

Aside from politics, Pozo is concerned with the way students are treated. Many educators show a lack of respect for identities of ethnic students and do not expect much of them academically, she said. Since Pozo was an honors student at East High School, teachers treated her better than other ethnic students, she said.   

Students at CESA tell each other about professors and other students who unintentionally make intolerant remarks. Pozo experienced this herself, when a professor repeatedly used the term “Latin American whore” to refer to his frequent visits to Latin America. “But just his language was ridiculous,” she said.

Some instructors do understand other cultures and encourage minority students to achieve, Pozo said, such as Theresa Martinez, associate professor in the Department of Sociology. Pozo also has noticed some high school counselors supporting students who want to get involved with MEChA and go to college.

Many students Pozo has met in MEChA have been discouraged from pursuing higher education. Pozo worked with one student who was told she was not cut out for a writing course by an instructor. Situations like this are not uncommon, Pozo said, especially for undocumented students.

A controversial bill, HB 241, preventing undocumented students from paying in-state tuition unless they do not have a job outside of school was recently debated. Undocumented students face many challenges already, Pozo said. An example is one of her high school friends. “She’s been here since she was really little,” Pozo said. “I don’t think it’s fair that we went to high school together, we did a lot of things together, and all of a sudden she wasn’t supposed to attend higher education.” Pozo and MEChA lobbied against the bill, which did not make it to the Senate floor.

The bill would have perpetuated the status of second class citizens placed on undocumented students, Pozo said. “If they don’t have an education, they don’t have the tools to pursue other goals and careers.” A limited number of scholarships are available to undocumented students. According to the university’s income accounting and student loan services, the in-state tuition for lower-division freshman with one credit hour is about $661, while an out-of-state student pays about $1,900.

Pozo said she stands up for what she believes in, even when it doesn’t have much impact. However, a handful of representatives like state Rep. David Litvak, D-Salt Lake, listens to the MEChA students and keeps them aware of what is going on inside the legislative sessions.

Colleen Casto, who does community outreach for diversity at the university, said the general public doesn’t always get a sense of the challenges immigrants face. “They don’t understand how difficult it is, the bureaucracy, how many years it takes people to get here and the compelling reasons why they come here,” she said.

Pozo was a student in Casto’s honors think-tank class on immigration. “Sometimes when a group of students gets stuck on something she tends to jump in and facilitate,” Casto said. The students went to Mexico during Winter Break 2006 to develop an immigration resource guide book. “They worked really hard on it and the reason they did all the research is because they found that the general public didn’t understand it,” said Casto, who supports the lobbying that MEChA has done.

Groups like Black Student Union and Asian American Student Association also have shown their support for MEChA’s efforts. This year, CESA is focusing on cross cultural leadership and how to work with other student groups, Pozo said. MEChA helped BSU and AASA with their high school conferences, while those organizations assisted MEChA in fundraising efforts. Members of all three groups are often seen forming bonds in the CESA offices.

Most students who utilize the office come quite often. “It’s weird seeing a student you don’t see regularly,” Pozo said. Like many students, she experiences a sense of community at CESA. “I can come and share my experiences and my frustrations or laugh at some stupid racist comment,” she said.

“Students know each other and it’s a very close knit community,” said Feleti Matagi, director of the university’s Opportunities Scholar Program and former program coordinator for Pacific Islanders at CESA. Many of the students he assisted at CESA told him about incidents of racism. “I’ve had several students who had experiences where they expressed issues in their life and other students disrespected or disregarded it,” he said.

As a high school counselor, Pozo wants to assist students who have been overlooked because of their race and utilize the knowledge she is gaining at CESA today.