Equality Utah, a local LGBT rights advocacy organization, held a Town Hall last tonight to announce the launch of a new push for a statewide Non-Discrimination law. “This is about fairness, and justice under the law,” said Executive Director Brandie Balken.
A “Non-Discrimination Law” refers to a law that prohibits employers from hiring or firing, or a landlord evicting a person solely based on their sexual orientation or gender identity, says Max Green, Advocacy Coordinator for Equality Utah. “We already have in [Utah] code a list of things that cannot be used as the sole basis of discrimination, like a person’s religion or gender.”
The proposed law would add to that list sexual orientation and gender identity, making it illegal to fire or evict someone solely based on whether or not they are gay.
A similar ordinance was passed by Salt Lake City in 2009, with the endorsement of the LDS Church who said that the law was “fair and reasonable.” Since 2009, 15 other Utah cities or municipalities have followed suit and passed similar laws. But, Equality Utah, emphasizes, it just isn’t feasible to pass the law in every single city across Utah, and it is necessary for the State Legislature to step in.
“Polling has consistently shown over the past 4 years that more than 70% of Utahns support this fair and just law,” says Green. “The law does not recognize any form of relationship, it encourages the basic level of dignity which is being able to take care of yourself without fear of unfair reprisals.”
Opponents of the law have argued in past years that it would stifle free speech, but Equality Utah emphasizes that the law that will be brought forward in the coming weeks will specifically state that every Utahn is still entitled to their free speech and to express their opinions, so long as those opinions don’t infringe upon the rights of others.
The group is also launching a website next week, called myutahvalues.org, which will feature stories from Utahns who have faced workplace or housing discrimination because of their sexual orientation. Equality Utah is estimating that anywhere from 4 to 5 gay Utahns are fired or evicted each month because of their sexual orientation.
“What needs to be clear,” says Brandie Balken, “is that this law doesn’t mean you cannot fire or evict someone who is LGBT. It simply says you cannot fire or evict them because they’re LGBT. This is truly about human rights, and that fight doesn’t belong to any one party.”
Unlike past years, Equality Utah says the bill will originate from a Republican Senator, although they are not ready to release who that bill sponsor will be yet. They’ve also retained former Speaker of the House Greg Curtis to lobby for the bill in the legislature.