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.”

Fighting for Utah LGBT rights involves more than just marriage

Brandie Balken, executive director of Equality Utah, works in her office October of 2012 in downtown Salt Lake City.

Story and photo by JAKE GORDON

Fighting for equal rights in behalf of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community isn’t just about marriage — it is much more complex than that.

Brandie Balken, executive director for Equality Utah, expressed frustration that the public views gay marriage as the main issue.

“When we look at what the equality movement is and what our role in the equality movement is, we are really looking at the beginning of a person’s life all the way through the end of a person’s life,” Balken said in a talk to reporting students at the University of Utah on Sept. 13, 2012. “And I mention that because I think in the popular dialogue today, all we hear about is marriage and I have to tell you that there is so much more that needs to be done.”

The LGBT community has to fight hard for the same human rights that straight people generally take for granted. Rights like visiting loved ones in the hospital, transferring health and retirement benefits to a partner and being recognized as a non-biological parent are some things that Balken has had to fight for with the costly help of a lawyer.

“To secure access to your partner (in a hospital), even if you have been married in another state, you have to get a designated beneficiary contract and you need to establish a will and a trust if property is included,” Balken said. “My partner and I have spent literally almost $10,000 with our attorney preparing contracts to protect our home, to protect our life insurance investments and to protect as best we can our child to make sure that she is cared for.”

Tooele County Justice Court Judge John Mack Dow, who practiced law for 21 years prior to being named judge, talked about the differences between rights for straight and gay relationships.

“If there is a husband and a wife then the rights are transferred automatically in the relationship,” Dow said. “But if it is a homosexual partnership then they have to get the necessary paperwork and even that paperwork can be challenged in court by other family members.”

Balken has forked over the money to work with lawyers to become the medical decision-maker for her partner. When going on trips, Balken makes sure that she packs her paperwork and legal documents, just in case something does happen.

Niki Corpron, a registered nurse at Intermountain Healthcare hospital in Murray, said the hospital has strict policies regarding who can or can’t visit during an emergency.

“If someone is brought in by an ambulance and they have a homosexual partner then they aren’t allowed in to visit without the appropriate paperwork,” Corpron said. “If the partner doesn’t have their papers then they have to contact the family and receive permission from them.”

Balken is not only fighting for herself and her own family, but as executive director for Equality Utah she also is working for equitable rights for all in the state. Balken said Equality Utah was founded in 2001 as a political action committee, or PAC. The purpose of a PAC is to help people get elected into office. Equality Utah also fights legislation that seeks to disallow equal rights to gays.

She said that in the nation marriage is basically a state-by-state determination. Some states allow marriage, some states allow civil unions and some states, like Utah for one, prohibits any or all marriages or civil unions. Therefore, in Utah, equal rights are an uphill battle for Equality Utah and the LGBT community.

One piece of legislation Balken mentioned was a constitutional amendment that passed in 2004 penned by Rep. LaVar Christensen (R-Draper), which was called Amendment 3.

“This amendment to the constitution basically says marriage equality is prohibited, civil unions are prohibited, and any other contractual agreements with substantially equivalent benefits are prohibited,” Balken said. “That went before our legislature, was signed by our governor and put to the ballot in 2004 and more than two-thirds of the population of Utah approved that measure. So, currently in the state of Utah, marriage equality is banned in the constitution as are civil unions.”

Balken also knows that it takes multiple approaches to educate the public about equal rights.

“You have to educate the population about the issues, about the language, and about the implications of unequal policy,” she said. “You have to work with elected officials who are seated to understand the importance of equitable policy and to work with them to change that policy.”

Equality Utah works to get more fair-minded people in office, from the school board all the way up to the state house, to sustain achievable cultural change.

Although it is a long road to travel for equal rights, Equality Utah has had some success in passing some legislation. Balken said the organization passed in 2007 a bullying and hazing statute and a hate crimes prevention law.

“Those may seem like small things,” she said, “but . . . prevention of hate crimes or at least acknowledgement of hate crimes as well as prevention of bullying and hazing behaviors is crucially important.”

LGBT community pushes legislation for equal rights in Salt Lake City

Story and photo by MATT ELLIS

The Scott M. Matheson Courthouse is where the Utah Supreme Court meets.

It is no secret that people who are in the lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender (LGBT) community may find life to be a lot more difficult on a day-to-day basis than those who are not. There are currently no laws against discrimination in the workplace and where they live. There is also a constant political battle as people who identify with the LGBT community fight for rights and protections many feel should be afforded to them as American citizens.

Though there seems to be growing support among the general public through most of Salt Lake City, people in the LGBT community are fighting an uphill battle in the court systems as they try to secure their liberties, such as the right to marry, the right to adopt children, and the right to be free of discrimination in the workplace.

Several organizations are involved in politics on behalf of the LGBT community, but little progress has been made relative to other, more progressive cities around the U.S. – such as San Francisco, where gender-reassignment surgery can be subsidized by the government.

So if the public opinion is shifting, why is it so hard to gain support in the political arena? Kai Medina-Martínez, director of the LGBT Resource Center at the University of Utah, summed it up simply.

“Gay, in our country, is not a good thing,” Medina-Martínez said. “It’s something to be ashamed of and be treated badly for.”

But in a study released in August 2012 by the Huffington Post and the Campus Pride Index, the U was declared to be one of the top-25 LGBT-friendly campuses in the nation. It seems, then, that the lack of widespread support for putting the LGBT community on an equal playing field probably goes deeper than just being gay or transgender.

“I think one of the first major obstacles is that any time you talk about protection and rights for LGBT it automatically means marriage,” said Brandie Balken, executive director of Equality Utah, in a phone interview. “There is not a lot of support for [gay] marriage in Utah among the population at large.”

That is due in large part to the presence of religious organizations, none more significant than the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The LDS church holds firm that marriage should be between a man and a woman only. Given that many Christian sects share this belief and that America was founded on Christianity, this may help to explain why people are hesitant to show public displays of support.

Chad Christopher, a sophomore studying mass communication at the U and an openly gay student, said he supports legalizing gay marriage but he doesn’t think that it is totally necessary.

“It’s more about the benefits rather than the actual title of being married,” he said. “It’s about health benefits and just being able to really function as a family. If we can have all that, we don’t need the title.”

He said that unless things change over the next couple of years, he plans to leave Utah after graduation and settle in a place where he would be able to start a family, though he doesn’t know where yet.

But the struggle to legalize same-sex marriage is not the only legal battle the LGBT community is fighting. Every day, gay or transgender people are evicted from their homes or fired from their jobs simply because of the fact that they do not identify as a heterosexual male or female. Drew Call, a Salt Lake City man who worked for the LDS church, said in an interview with Salt Lake City Weekly that he is gay, but said he has never been sexually active with a man. In spite of that, he was fired from his job because of his friendship with other gay men.

Balken and Equality Utah, along with many other pro-LGBT organizations, hope that they can help our society progress to a point where things like gay friendships won’t matter.

Equality Utah is an organization that works to educate the public about the LGBT community and the issues it faces, as well as back political candidates who support the expansion of rights afforded to LGBT people.

“We’ve passed 25 pro-LGBT ordinances,” Balken said of EU’s work with local legislators. They include “fifteen [that] have to do with gender identity in housing and the workplace, four are to prevent bullying, and four others that are statewide statutes including a hate crime statute.”

She said Equality Utah plans to keep focusing on schools because bullies are targeting LGBT students. With students’ expanded use of social media websites such as Facebook and Twitter, Balken said it is much harder for students to escape the abuse and that her organization seeks to find a way to address that through legislation. Equality Utah was also able to pass a gatekeeper bill in March 2012, which mandates that teachers receive training on recognizing suicidal behavior in students and how to act accordingly.

Though she knows the road is not easy, Balken still has big plans for future legislative battles.

“Right now we are working on statewide legislation for housing and employment protection,” she said. “Further down the road we are looking at some sort of a contract package to make it easier [for LGBT people] to protect their homes, kind of like a will or trust.”

Such a package would allow unmarried same-sex couples to take advantage of many freedoms that are afforded to married couples, such as the ability to pass property on to their partner or make medical decisions on their behalf.

Balken said it might help the cause if there was a way to rally public support and try to get rid of the disconnect between popular opinion and that of the lawmakers, but she is not sure how that can be done.

“I would have addressed it by now,” Balken said, “I honestly don’t know.”

Same game, different treatment? Title IX questions still linger in Utah athletics

by: Zachary Arthur

Cheyenne Wilson, a freshman small forward on the University of Utah women’s basketball team, gets frustrated with inequity on the court. “If I go to the gym on my own wanting to shoot and there are men’s players wanting to shoot, they basically kick me off or I have to wait until they are done.”

The 2012 U basketball season showed people that the women’s team had a better season than the men’s team. The treatment of the two programs shows that although the women’s team might be better, the men’s team is treated like they are better.

The women’s team went 16-16 and made the Women’s NIT, a postseason invitational tournament. The men’s team went 6-25 and failed to make any of three postseason invitational tournaments that the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) offers.

The women’s team has had one player transfer in two years. In contrast, 11 players members of the men’s team moved to other programs.

All signs point to the women’s team running a better basketball program, but they don’t get the same treatment as the men’s team in several areas.

Forty years have passed since Title IX went into effect, a federal law that mandated equal treatment between men and women in high school and college athletics, but it looks like there might still be some differences.

Division One sports programs are federally funded meaning they fall under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 which states:

“No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.”

Title IX ensures that both men’s and women’s athletic programs are treated equally and receive the same opportunities. This is the real issue when it comes to the U’s student basketball programs.

Wilson talked about inequalities in getting gym time, but it also goes to the weight room. “Lifting is another issue I have experienced. Lifting at the same time as the men just does not happen, but they seem to be in there quite a bit more than us which makes me think.

Rachel Messer, a junior shooting guard on the women’s basketball team, shares the same frustration. Messer said, “It is just unfortunate because the only difference between the two teams is that one of the teams is made up of men and the other team is made up of women,” Messer said.

Another issue that Wilson brought up was that the two teams were not promoted on an equal level.

Media promotion matters in a game of fan numbers, like NCAA athletics. Some critics say the typical lack of fans in the stands at the women’s games has everything to do with poor advertising.

The men’s games saw around 7,000 people at every home game and the team went 6-9 for season.

By contrast, the women’s games filled 10 to 15 percent of the Huntsman Center for home games. Last season the women’s team went 12-4 at home. The women’s team plays better at home, but the lack of screaming fans in the stands seems to suggest otherwise.

This is where media exposure becomes so important. The more media coverage a team receives, the more people across Utah will get to see what the team has to offer. Could this be the fundamental reason as to why some think the men’s team getting more publicity is wrong?

Nate Cordova, a member of a men’s team that practices against the women, chalks up greater press coverage of the men’s team as the reason for stronger fan support.

“The women get no advertising. I mean the men are garbage but like you go to their games, you always hear about them. Their advertising is way more publicized than the women, but the women are actually kind of good and the men suck so that’s interesting.”

Whether they are television commercials, signs around campus, or most importantly newspaper ads and articles, the men’s team is getting the majority of the media.

Cordova suggested that maybe the difference in male and female physical abilities is the reason for such wide gaps in fan interest and attendance.. “The [women’s] team brings us in to practice against them because we are bigger, faster and stronger than them and it helps prepare them for games. The men’s team does not need to bring anybody in because they are already very athletic and maybe that is why people like to watch them”.

Changing how a group of people are treated has been something this country has battled for hundreds of years. The lingering concerns over athletic inequities under Title IX could be evidence that this battle has yet to be won.