OGDEN • Utah advocates are optimistic that a bill prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity will pass its first hurdle before a Senate committee on Thursday.
Currently, 17 municipalities in Utah have ordinances prohibiting employment or housing discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) individuals, but there is no statewide protection.
"We think we have the support," Max Green, an advocacy coordinator with Equality Utah, told an audience Tuesday night at the Pleasant Valley Library Branch in Washington Terrace.
Sen. Steve Urquhart, R-St. George, is the sponsor of SB262, which faces its first vote at 4 p.m. Thursday before Senate Economic Development and Workforce Services Standing Committee.
Officials from the OUTreach Resource Center, a center for LGBT and allied youth, sponsored the Tuesday community forum to rally support for the bill.
"The LGBT youth we work with are stunned to learn that in most areas of Utah they can be fired or evicted simply for being who they are," Marian Edmonds, executive director of OUTreach, said. "LGBT youth already face an epidemic of homelessness and suicide in Utah. Employment and housing discrimination on top of that is cruel."
Panelists included active members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who support the bill, though the LDS Church has not taken a position.
"Treating all people equally and fairly is part of everyone's life," said Corey Howard, a member of Mormons Building Bridges, a grassroots group of Mormons who support civil rights for LGBT people.
Equality Utah, the largest LGBT nonprofit in Utah, has been advocating for a statewide nondiscrimination bill for seven years.
"We are not going to go away or stop," Green said. "This is not about marriage, this is not about marriage. Even if there's [same-sex] marriage, you could still be fired or evicted."
Green added the antidiscrimination bill would not create "special protections" for gay and transgender people.
Attorney Bill Morris, the author of nondiscrimination ordinances adopted in three Utah towns and municipalities, explained specifics about SB 262 and Utah's Antidiscrimination Act, which applies to businesses that employ 15 or more employees but does not apply to religious organizations or associations.
Many of the state's largest companies, expressing concerns about the state's economy, favor passage of the statewide bill, including Ancestry.com, eBay, and 1-800-CONTACTS.
Panelist Jackie Biskupski, a former member of the Utah House who was openly gay during her service, said residents writing to state officials makes a difference, and asked the audience to make their voice known by visiting a new website called Utahvalues.org. "Even five e-mails on an issue is a big deal," Biskupski said.
Other panelists included physician Peter Clemens, an active member of the LDS Church; Susan Dortsch, a member of Mormons Building Bridges; attorney Bill Morris, author of nondiscrimination ordinances adopted in three Utah towns and municipalities; Barry Gomberg, executive director of affirmative action and equal opportunity at Weber State University; and Marcia White, board vice-president of OUTreach and former board president of Equality Utah.
The Tribune will continue to update this developing story.
Hear the debate
Listen to the debate at 4 p.m. Thursday on SB262 by going to the Utah State Legislature website, le.utah.gov, click on "audio/video" at the top, then scroll down to the Senate Economic Development and Workforce Services Standing Committee.