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Survey show some LGBT residents don't feel safe
Education » Utah Pride Center plans town hall.

By Rosemary Winters

The Salt Lake Tribune

Published July 9, 2010 7:49 pm
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2010, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
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A gay man arrested for kidnapping after being severely beaten by his neighbors. A Salt Lake City bar fight where a same-sex couple was assaulted and called derogatory slurs. A kiss between two men on the LDS Church's Main Street Plaza that resulted in trespassing charges.

These and other incidents of violence or perceived discrimination against people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender has made many in the community question their own safety.

On Tuesday, the Utah Pride Center will address issues relating to law enforcement, the justice system and discrimination safeguards at a town-hall meeting. Speakers include Salt Lake City Prosecutor Sim Gill and West Valley City police Sgt. Julie Jorgensen.

"We can only sit back and listen for so long to complaints from the community without addressing them," said Michael Westley, spokesman for the center. "There's some healing that needs to be done and some communication that needs to take place."

South Salt Lake resident David James "DJ" Bell ultimately was acquitted of kidnapping his neighbor's young children. Now, two years later, his seven alleged attackers have been charged with felony riot -- some also have been charged with assault -- and are awaiting trial. Last year, the Salt Lake City prosecutor dropped trespassing charges against Derek Jones and Matt Aune, but their Main Street Plaza kiss and scuffle with LDS security guards drew national attention, including an appearance on Comedy Central's "The Colbert Report."

Salt Lake City police are still investigating the alleged assault of Ryan Gray and Kevin Burns at Piper Down Pub in April. No arrests have been made.

On Friday, the Utah Pride Center released a survey of nearly 500 people, most of whom identify as LGBT, about safety and protection from bias. The surveys were gathered at the Utah Pride Festival in June and on the center's website.

Fewer than half the respondents said they feel safe at school, in restaurants or at non-LGBT-specific bars. They were more likely to feel safe at home (91 percent), work (52 percent) or at LGBT bars (67 percent). The Utah Pride Center plans to offer training to mainstream bars on how to create a safer environment for LGBT patrons.

Political leaders, including Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker, may have enhanced some LGBT residents' sense of well-being. In the survey, 70 percent of respondents said passage of anti-discrimination ordinances in Salt Lake City, Salt Lake County and other places has increased their sense of safety.

"It was one of the first times I can remember any elected official in Utah standing up and telling me I was worth something," said Eric Ethington, 25, a bisexual Salt Lake City resident and a community activist.

Jorgensen, the West Valley City police officer, said she hopes her city's recent passage of such measures, which ban housing and employment discrimination based on a person's sexual orientation or gender identity, improves how LGBT residents view the city and law enforcement.

"We want all the people who are living in and visiting West Valley City to feel safe," she said.

Jorgensen is a member of the LGBT Public Safety Committee, which has representatives from law enforcement agencies from Weber County to Cottonwood Heights. Members serve as liaisons between their police departments and the LGBT community. The committee and Equality Utah collaborated with the Utah Pride Center on Tuesday's town hall and the survey.

The survey also showed that only 34 percent of respondents believe they are protected against discrimination based on sexual orientation when reporting a domestic-violence dispute.

"From these results, we know that in spite of our efforts, people don't understand that law enforcement is trained to deal with same-sex partners in domestic violence," said a statement from Capt. Kyle Jones, a member of the Salt Lake City Police Department and the LGBT Public Safety Committee. "We need to [educate] more."

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LGBT town hall

What » A panel discussion and forum to discuss discrimination and safety issues faced by people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender.

Who » Speakers are Sim Gill, Salt Lake City prosecutor; Brandie Balken, executive director of Equality Utah; Sgt. Julie Jorgensen, West Valley City Police Department; Eric Ethington, Pride in Your Community; and Paul Parker, justice administrator, Salt Lake County District Attorney's Office.

When » Tuesday, 6:30 to 8 p.m.

Where » Salt Lake City Main Library auditorium, 210 E. 400 South.



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