Pyle: It's not what you know, but who you know
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

[Above — Harvey Milk: "You must come out!"]

It is frustrating to hear members of the Utah Legislature back new laws — laws we all must obey and pay for — based on something they heard from a friend of a cousin of a neighbor.

Somebody was offended by a second-hand description of a school sex education lesson. Somebody got the skunk eye from a county sheriff because his raincoat momentarily converted his legal openly carried weapon into an illegal concealed one. Somebody had a nightmare about the embarrassing details of an email to his representative being splashed across the front page of The Salt Lake Tribune after an open-records request. (Which, by the way, never happens.)

Legislation by anecdote, rather than research, is something that we ivory tower pundits like to make fun of.

But.

What was it but basic human contact that moved one member of the Legislature, Stephen Urquhart, to carry a statewide version of the LGBT anti-discrimination law that has been implemented in several Utah communities?

And what was it but a simple, person-to-person meeting with an energetic young woman that moved a former member of the Legislature, Stephen Sandstrom, to regret his key roll in passing a law two years ago that requires police to check the immigration status of anyone detained during the investigation of a felony.

In an op-ed column published in The Tribune, Urquhart explained how he came to believe that his bill was right, that discrimination against gays and lesbians in housing and employment is wrong, not by any grand philosophical search or legal analysis, but from the heart-to-hearts he had with real people in his conservative hometown of St. George.

"I have never felt more loved and respected by my fellow church members," Urquhart wrote.

And just last Wednesday, Sandstrom told the Republicans' Latino Appreciation Day that he changed his mind about the need for aggressive immigration enforcement because he met a 19-year-old who lamented her chances to fulfill her potential in the Land of Opportunity.

Despite good grades, despite pledging allegiance to the United States every day in school, this human being faced dead ends for her future education and career.

"Nothing else I'd heard from anybody shook me to the core more than that statement," Sandstrom said.

Well, there might have been something more. Such as, one might imagine, pressure from the Republican Party and/or The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, two institutions that have to compete with other institutions — one headed by a re-elected president, the other by a brand new Latino pope — for the support of the growing Hispanic population.

But such big picture calculations often fail to motivate people. Real human-to-human interaction is more likely to lead to acts of human decency.

San Francisco County Supervisor Harvey Milk, one of the first well-known gay activists, said the most powerful way to move the cause of gay rights forward was for all gay people to "come out," to show their families, friends, co-workers and employers that they were people, too.

Just in the last few days, we read that U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, an Ohio Republican, now favors gay marriage, because his son is gay. And Mother Jones documents how lawmakers who have daughters are more likely to vote for women's rights issues than those who don't.

Stand-up philosopher George Carlin, when his hair grew out and his beard grew in, said he found he wasn't so frightening to many folks now that "many people have someone like me in their family."

Urquhart's bill amazingly was approved by a Senate committee, but never got a vote from the full Senate. Sandstrom's bill was immediately enjoined by a federal judge and, as far as Sandstrom is now concerned, ought to be thrown out.

Former House Speaker Tip O'Neill is remembered for saying that, "All politics is local." But even Tip painted with too broad a brush.

All politics is personal.

George Pyle, a Tribune editorial writer, understands things better if they are compared to a Star Trek episode. Illuminate him at gpyle@sltrib.com or via Twitter @debatestate.