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Holladay • As the City Council began considering whether to protect gay and transgender Holladay residents from housing and employment discrimination, Councilman Barry Topham instead hoped to sideline the debate at a work session this week.
"We have so many problems in this city," said Topham, adding that discrimination against the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community is not one of them.
"I don't know why we're discussing this," he added, labeling the issue a "can of worms."
Salt Lake City and other Utah communities have adopted ordinances banning employers and landlords from discriminating against people based on their actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity. Topham, a dermatologist, said he employs about five staff members in his Holladay practice and would hate to be forced to hire someone of whom he did not approve.
And if he were renting part of his home, Topham said, he would want to narrow the field of applicants in any way he chooses.
"I think you should be able to discriminate if you don't want a cross-dresser living in your house," Topham said.
Councilman Jim Palmer weighed in with a different perspective.
"Your desire to discriminate," Palmer told Topham, "violates the equal-protection clause of the Constitution that we've all sworn to uphold."
The city recently received an anonymous open letter from a group of about 10 concerned voters, residents and businesses, urging officials to adopt such ordinances to show that Holladay is welcoming and inclusive.
Brandie Balken, executive director of Equality Utah, attended the Wednesday night session. She applauds the Council for broaching the hot topic.
"I'm always a little heartened to see city councils and mayors engaging in real conversations about the impact these ordinances would have on their communities," Balken said.
At Equality Utah's request, the state's Department of Labor began tracking allegations of such discrimination reported there although no formal complaints can be filed because state law does not provide protections.
"They tell us three to five cases per month," Balken said. "We know it's occurring in our state and we also know that Utahns are fair-minded and believe that everyone has the right to work and to have a roof over their heads."
Councilman Lynn Pace, deputy city attorney for Salt Lake City, said communities across the nation grapple with the issue. The debate extends to a larger question, Pace added, of whether to extend legal protection to particular classes of people.
"I ask myself if I should discriminate against people because they're overweight or have tattoos," Pace said. "The list goes on and on."
To Balken, the answer is simple.
"Every human being has a gender identity and sexual orientation" which is the case with other protections established by the Civil Rights Act, Balken said.
"We know that people are at risk for discrimination on the basis of these factors," Balken added. "I believe very strongly that these are equal protections."
If Holladay makes the move, it would be the eighth local government in Utah to ban such discrimination.
Vote on rules could happen Sept. 16
The City Council could vote on these proposed ordinances at 6 p.m., Sept. 16, at City Hall, 4580 S. 2300 East.
Stay tuned and check agendas online at http://tinyurl.com/holladayagenda
Holladay relaxes noise ordinance
Through Monday, outdoor revelers can get a little loud in this east-side city until 10 p.m. without violating the city's newly amended noise ordinance. The city previously capped such boisterousness at 9 p.m., but the City Council voted earlier this week to loosen that law between Memorial Day and Labor Day to allow one extra hour of night-time exuberance. Councilman Barry Topham was the lone dissenter in the group, preferring the earlier noise curfew year-round. The ordinance also bans construction and other disruptive noise before 8 a.m.