West Valley City to consider banning anti-gay bias

Discrimination issue » Utah's second largest city could follow SLC's lead.
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Utah's second largest city could be the next local government to shield gay and transgender residents from housing and employment discrimination.

On Tuesday, the West Valley City Council plans to discuss whether it ought to adopt ordinances similar to those passed with unanimous support -- and a rare LDS Church endorsement -- in Salt Lake City last fall.

Freshman Mayor Mike Winder urged the council, during a planning retreat in January, to take up the issue in 2010. On Monday, he said, residents have shared with him their experiences of being "evicted or fired" because of their sexual orientations.

"I'm a proud Republican and a proud American," Winder said. "When I recite the Pledge of Allegiance and say 'with liberty and justice for all,' I mean what I say."

Winder added that, as a Christian, he also believes in treating others as he would want to be treated. "I certainly wouldn't want to be fired or lose my house because of my personal lifestyle preferences."

After Salt Lake City adopted its two ordinances -- one bars discrimination based on a person's sexual orientation or gender identity in housing and the other bans it in employment -- Salt Lake County passed similar statutes. Such measures also are being crafted in Park City, Summit County and Taylorsville. The Ogden City Council could start a discussion next month.

West Valley City, home to 123,000 people, still has to work out the "nuts and bolts" of how the laws would be worded and enforced, Councilman Corey Rushton said. But he said the council generally supports the concept.

"I'm excited for the discussion," Rushton said. "We're a city that prides itself on diversity and being inclusive."

Jesse Michael Nix, a 26-year-old gay man who bought a home in West Valley City four years ago, is impressed with the mayor's leadership on the issue.

"It's absolutely the right thing to do," Nix said. "It makes me feel better as a West Valley citizen."

A recent Salt Lake Tribune poll found two-thirds of Utahns support expanding Salt Lake City's anti-discrimination protections statewide. But during the 2010 Legislature, lawmakers declined to take up such a measure.

Instead, Democrats and Republicans agreed to a moratorium on any bills -- for or against -- the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community. The compromise saved Salt Lake City's and Salt Lake County's ordinances from a possible legislative trump and preserved the ability of other local governments to follow suit.

"What we're seeing now is that mayors and residents are starting this process on their own," said Brandie Balken, executive director of Equality Utah. "With these local conversations, people will see the importance of these common-sense protections."

During a yearlong monitoring period, the Utah Antidiscrimination & Labor Division received, on average, three calls a month about claims based on sexual orientation and gender identity, according to a 2009 Salt Lake City report.

That's a similar frequency, Balken said, to sexism complaints. But women make up about half the population, while LGBT people comprise roughly 3 percent of Utah's population.

"The rate of discrimination is actually quite high," Balken said. "Right now, people can get fired or they can get evicted because of who they are."


What's next

» The West Valley City Council will discuss anti-discrimination ordinances at its study meeting today. The meeting starts at 4:30 p.m. at West Valley City Hall, 3600 S. Constitution Blvd. (2700 West).

» If the council agrees, staff will be directed to draft anti-discrimination ordinances, which would be scheduled for a public hearing before a formal council vote.