Distortions abound as LGBT rights are debated in Utah

The Better UTAH Beat airs Tuesday afternoons on KVNU’s For the People. Podcasts of previous episodes are available here.
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Equal rights for our LGBT brothers and sisters who live in Utah has been in the news in a big way in recent weeks. Perhaps the most interesting news has revolved around the challenge to Utah’s regressive amendment that bans marriage equality or any other comparable union.

That ban is currently being challenged by three Utah couples. Their case was heard by U.S. District Judge Robert Shelby last Wednesday during a four-hour hearing.

But marriage equality isn’t the only issue of concern for LGBT Utahns. Non-discrimination ordinances have long been an important arena for securing equal protection for LGBT Utahns. Though there is no statewide law banning discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, many Utah cities have opted to pass their own ordinances.

Those cities span the entire state, from Logan in the very north, all the way down to Moab and Springdale in the southern parts of the state. A statewide non-discrimination bill was sponsored during the last legislative session by state Senator Steve Urquhart, and though the bill made it out of committee for the first time ever, it died on the senate floor without being brought up for debate.

Provo, of very conservative Utah County, is currently considering its own non-discrimination ordinance, modeled after the one Salt Lake City passed, and which the LDS church supported, back in 2009.

Provo recently made headlines when it held its first-ever Gay Pride event earlier this year. As a participant, I can speak for the stunning display of acceptance and generosity that was witnessed there. But a Gay Pride event, though truly enriching for the many gay and transgendered citizens in Utah County, becomes even more meaningful when acceptance is codified in law. Provo’s decision to pursue the possibility of a non-discrimination ordinance is welcome news.

Predictably, however, even the possibility of such an ordinance passing has already created a rallying cry for the boorish and narrow-minded.

The Daily Herald recently published a column in which local curmudgeon Pamela Romney Openshaw assailed the possible ordinance for it’s protection of what she calls “alternate sexualities.” In fact, for Openshaw, the law amounts to reverse discrimination. She’s convinced that a non-discrimination ordinance will allow the rights of gay Utahns to trump the rights of property owners by allowing even the loudest, rent-avoiding, property-destroying homosexuals to claim tenancy with abandon wherever and whenever they please.

Openshaw isn’t just distorting the truth. She’s engaging in blatant fear mongering. The truth is, the non-discrimination ordinance merely states that a person cannot be evicted based solely on their sexual orientation or gender identity. Partiers who neglect to pay their rent can still be evicted. And, despite what Openshaw thinks, the law won’t apply to landlords with single rental units attached to their homes.

Change isn’t easy. We’ll be the first to admit that. But the lies that defenders of the status quo, like Openshaw, will use to prevent Provo’s gay and transgender citizens from receiving equal protection are totally baseless–as well as unbecoming of a Utahn. Let’s hope Provo isn’t swayed by the fear and inaccurate rhetoric of people like Ms. Openshaw. They should take the opportunity to do the right thing, just like so many other Utah cities, and support fair housing and employment for all Utahns.

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