Salt Lake City resident Candice Metzler wanted to let her work colleagues see the transition she already had begun in her personal life. Known to them as a man, Metzler wore mascara, eyeliner and white-tipped acrylic nails to a company barbecue.
Three months later, Metzler, was unemployed and homeless. Although her boss had supported her coming out as transgender, clients began shunning the small, home-inspection enterprise after the picnic. The struggling business let Metzler go.
She felt the sting of discrimination more sharply, she said, as she applied to job after job in the construction industry but was turned down. She lost her home and lived on the streets for nearly a year. She finally found a job as a receptionist.
Her experience highlights the challenges faced by lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) workers, who, in Utah, are not protected against discrimination in the workplace by local, state or federal laws.
Metzler is staging a community forum on the topic tonight at Salt Lake City's Main Library.
"We can get past the issue of who's going to use a bathroom," she said. "As individuals, we know who we are. We don't have to have someone tell us who we are. Fairness [is] giving people that respect."
Metzler's story is not uncommon.
In 2007, the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the Utah Transit Authority's decision to fire a transgender bus driver after she asked to use women's restrooms. She was told she could come back to work after her reassignment surgery.
Earlier this year, a gay man from Pleasant Grove told a Utah House committee he was fired from his credit-union job after he asked whether his employer offered domestic-partner benefits. It was the first time he had let a supervisor know he was gay.
The Utah Antidiscrimination and Labor Division found, during a voluntary tracking period, that it receives an average of three calls a month with questions about bias based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
"Most Utahns support fair workplace laws," said Will Carlson, public policy manager for the gay-rights advocacy group Equality Utah. "When you start disciplining people for things that don't have anything to do with their jobs ... you're making the recession last even longer."
Both houses of Congress are considering legislation, known as the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), that would extend federal protections against employment discrimination based on race, religion, sex, national origin, age and disability to cases of bias based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker is crafting a citywide ordinance that would protect gay and transgender people from discrimination in employment and housing in Utah's capital. It's expected to be presented to the City Council in September.
"I'm committed to promoting equity," Becker said last month when he announced the nondiscrimination ordinance, "and achieving the ideals of our Constitution -- that no state shall deny any person equal protection [under] the laws."
The Utah Legislature snuffed out a similar measure that would have granted such protections statewide earlier this year. But the bill, part of a passel of gay-rights measures called the Common Ground Initiative, is expected to return in 2010.
Gov. Gary Herbert -- whose predecessor, Jon Huntsman Jr., endorsed the initiative -- will not take a position on any proposed state statute he hasn't analyzed, Herbert's spokeswoman Angie Welling said Wednesday in an e-mail.
"Governor Herbert feels very strongly that people ought to be treated fairly and with respect at all times, in all situations," she said. "For that reason, he is cautious about laws that grant special status, on any basis, by expanding protected classes beyond those already in place in state and federal laws."
But, she noted, as a "strong supporter of local government," Herbert supports Salt Lake City's right to make policy for its jurisdiction.
Metzler, 40, has gone back to school. She's studying psychology at the University of Utah and plans to get a master's degree in social work. She wants to work with homeless LGBT youths.
After all, she knows where they've been.
What » Community forum on workplace discrimination against lesbian, gay bisexual and transgender employees.
When » Tonight, 7 to 8:30.
Where » Salt Lake City Main Library auditorium, 210 E. 400 South.
Cost » Free.
Panel speakers » State Rep. Christine Johnson, D-Salt Lake City; Troy Justesen, former U.S. Department of Justice civil-rights official; Todd Hess, Human Rights Campaign; Will Carlson, Equality Utah; Candice Metzler, activist; Rebecca Hill, member of the Salt Lake City Human Rights Commission.