Gay-rights group names interim director

Politics » Equality Utah is making a renewed pitch for the Common Ground Initiative
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Equality Utah has named a longtime Salt Lake City activist as its interim executive director.

Brandie Balken -- who was the first resident, along with her partner, to sign up for the city's mutual-commitment registry in 2008 -- takes the helm, at least through the November elections, as the group continues its search for a permanent replacement for former director Mike Thompson. He stepped down in May.

"Working for equality is something that is -- simply put -- just the right thing to do," Balken said Monday. "Equal rights [for gay and transgender people] are human rights."

In addition to starting a new job Monday, Balken celebrated her eighth anniversary with her partner. Balken, 36, got involved in the gay-rights movement after she came out as a lesbian 15 years ago.

"That was the moment," Balken said, "for me to reassess where I was at and what I was doing."

A sales manager for Cactus & Tropicals, Balken has volunteered with the Utah Pride Center, the National Center for Lesbian Rights and the Inclusion Center. She served on Equality Utah's board before that panel named her interim director.

"Brandie has strong business and management skills [and] has worked extensively as a leader and organizer in the gay and transgender community," Equality Utah Board Chairwoman Stephanie Pappas said in a statement. "She will bring continuity and new energy to the leadership of our organization."

This week, Equality Utah launches a series of town-hall meetings along the Wasatch Front and Back aimed at growing grass-roots support for its Common Ground Initiative. The legislative campaign includes measures making it illegal to fire an employee for being gay or transgender and offering some legal protections to same-sex couples.

Meetings planned

Equality Utah will stage town-hall meetings this month to ramp up support for its Common Ground Initiative. For more information, e-mail or call 801-355-3479.

Taylorsville » Thursday, 6:30 to 8 p.m., Taylorsville Library, 4870 S. 2700 West.

Sandy » July 20, 6:30 to 8 p.m., Sandy Library, 10100 S. Petunia Way (1405 East).

West Valley City » July 21, 6:30 to 8 p.m., West Valley Library, 2880 W. 3650 South.

Park City » July 28, 6:30 to 8 p.m., Park City Library, 255 Park Ave.

Ogden » July 28, 6:30 to 8 p.m., Ogden OUTReach Center 705 23rd St.