Equality groups lobby Provo City to prohibit discrimination in housing and employment

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Under the current Utah Anti-discrimination Act, employers and landlords in the state face no legal ramifications for denying members of the LGBT community a job or a home.

Groups including Equality Utah, Mormons Building Bridges, Transgender Education Advocates and CHG Healthcare met at a conference in Provo this month in an effort to obtain more stringent anti-discrimination policies in Provo. The groups met with members of Provo City Council to publicly back the Equality for My Community project, which aims to include sexual orientation and gender identity in the list of factors upon which employers or landlords cannot discriminate.

An increasing number of states have passed laws prohibiting discrimination  in housing and employment with regard to sexual orientation. (Photo courtesy thetaskforce.org).
An increasing number of states have passed laws prohibiting discrimination in housing and employment with regard to sexual orientation. (Image courtesy thetaskforce.org)

Brandie Balken, executive director of Equality Utah, said discrimination in housing and employment is a problem in Utah and hopes to help the Utah County LGBT community engage in open dialogue with community leaders.

“A vast majority of Utahns support these basic protections, and every day more and more people are becoming aware of the inequalities in employment and housing practices and are standing up for fairness,” Balken said in an email.

Provo Municipal Council member Sterling Beck encouraged anyone interested in local legislation to register to vote, to attend city meetings, and above all, to let their elected officials know how they feel by contacting them.

The introduction to the city’s Vision 2030 statement declares, “We value: Faith, respect and service to each other and our community.” Beck pointed out that one of the city’s named core values is “our respect and consideration for all.”

“It’s very important to our community that everyone in Provo feel welcome and be treated with respect,” Beck said. “I believe it’s important that our city do all that it can to highlight the good and caring people that live and work within our city and that we continue to be a welcoming place to call home.”

This month’s forum with various advocate groups was Provo City’s first formal move to consider an anti-discrimination measure.

Balkin said anti-discrimination measures have been shown to drastically reduce the risks of depression and homelessness in the LGBT community.

“I think the most important benefit (of prohibiting discrimination in housing and employment) is the message we send to gay and transgender youth who face alarmingly high rates of homelessness and self-harming behavior,” Balkin said. “By implementing these most basic protections we are saying to them, ‘We acknowledge you, and you are welcome here.'”

Community members at the meeting expressed concern that an anti-discrimination ordinance in Provo could conflict with the religious environment Brigham Young University provides for its students. It is unlikely BYU would be affected by such an ordinance in the same way as would most organizations, since it is a privately owned institution.

It is unclear, however, precisely how off-campus housing would be affected. For now, university officials are taking a wait-and-see approach.

“We are certainly aware of the situation taking place, (but) we will not be speculating what it will mean for contracted housing,” said BYU spokesperson Carri Jenkins.

Jenkins reaffirmed the Honor Code’s position on matters pertaining to homosexuality in the university community, which states, “Brigham Young University will respond to homosexual behavior rather than to feelings or attraction and welcomes as full members of the university community all whose behavior meets university standards. Members of the university community can remain in good Honor Code standing if they conduct their lives in a manner consistent with gospel principles and the Honor Code.”

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints stated in a news release regarding the Human Rights Campaign in 2011 that it supports discrimination protection for the LGBT community.

“While the Church is strongly on the record as opposing same-sex marriage, it has openly supported other rights for gays and lesbians such as protections in housing or employment,” the statement read.

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