Yesterday a few fellow students and I spent the afternoon working with Equality Utah to inform Westminster students about the need for a bill to protect LGBT Utahns from housing and employment discrimination. I was surprised to see how many of my friends, who are politically informed individuals, did not know that you could be fired or evicted in Utah for your real or perceived sexual orientation and gender identity. Many of them were quite outraged when they
were told this and immediately agreed to contact their legislators. The good news is that they have the opportunity to do just that.
We are now halfway through this year’s legislative session and rumor has it a bill outlawing discrimination in employment and housing based on sexual orientation and gender identity will be officially introduced by the end of week. I am excited to see how it will be received this year. I hope that it will be able to garner enough support to pass–and if it does indeed get the support of the LDS church it has a real fighting chance. However, the discussions that I had with my fellow students yesterday illustrate some of the problems with passing gay rights legislation in Utah.
It has been hard for the LGBT community to make ground in Utah. One of the biggest obstacles is the fact that many who oppose this type of legislation are vocal and politically powerful. Pro-traditional marriage advocates are so vocal that some issues get confused with other bills that are in no way related to gay rights. A perfect example of this was the house floor debate for HB 50, the Dating Violence Protection Act. Some Representatives were concerned that the bill would open the door to gay marriage, even though the bill had nothing to do with marriage or the LGBT community.
Another major obstacle to gay rights legislation is that those that would support these bills are not informed about the need for them. They do not realize that discrimination is legal in many parts of our state. As a result they do not speak out. They remain silent while opponents to equal rights for LGBT individuals remain loud.
It may seem like it will be impossible to pass nondiscrimination legislation in Utah given our political realities, but I think it can be done. To do so, supporters will need to be as vocal as opponents.