Compassion at center of meeting on anti-discrimination legislation

A group of neighbors and concerned citizens gathered in a home in east Provo Nov. 22 to discuss concerns about proposed anti-discrimination legislation, the so-called “Bathroom bill.”

The citizens oppose the bill, which they believe infringes on their “First Amendment rights” to free exercise of religion by imposing a “sexual rights” mentality on the state of Utah. Many were parents and grandparents who said the bill, if passed, would infringe on children’s safety at school and right to privacy. Utah Sen. Steve Urquhart, a Republican, is sponsoring the bill, which adds onto existing non-discrimination legislation. A law passed in 2009 already forbids discrimination in housing and employment based on sexual orientation in the state of Utah.

The bill itself reads, “It is a discriminatory and prohibited employment practice to deny an employee access to restrooms, shower facilities, or dressing facilities that are consistent with the employee’s gender identity.” Attendees at the cottage meeting were concerned that the proposed bill would add bathrooms, locker rooms and other areas traditionally divided by gender to the list of places where persons of LGBT orientations could act freely according to their lifestyle choices. They also objected to the principle of making gender a choice rather than a biological distinction.

“This bill is just a reinvention of the same threat to marriage,” said Mary Summerhays, who hosted the event. “How can you continue gendered marriage if you make gender a choice?”

Speakers at the event were Stuart Reid, a Utah state senator and Republican from Ogden, and activist Gail Ruzika. Reid said he opposed the bill because it would prevent discrimination based on something society “still considers immoral.” He added that he had seen no cases of such discrimination against LGBT individuals in Utah, and so the bill is not necessary but rather goes against the spirit of religion the Founding Fathers intended for America.

Ruzika called the bill a “gateway” to passage of legislation allowing same-sex marriage, based on similar occurrences in other states. Her presentation was based primarily on the effects the proposed legislation could have on schools and possible dangers to children and women if transgender males began using women’s facilities.

Some attendees said they were concerned they would be labeled “haters” and asked, “Where is your compassion?” when they tried to fight the proposed bill on moral grounds.

Ruzika reminded attendees to go forward with love, as that is the only counter to such accusations. She told of one experience where, after a political rally, a teenage girl who is a lesbian asked her why she hated her. “I told her, ‘I don’t hate you. I love you. It’s because I love you that I’m doing this.'”

Ruzika explained that although their views remained different, she became friends with the girl and her parents after that conversation.

One attendee added, “I have ‘compassion’ on my daughter who would have to use the bathroom with a 45-year-old man (if the bill passed).”

Reid also spoke of the need for compassion. He said during his service as a military chaplain during the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” era, he often comforted gay men who were “crying into (his) shoulder” after being harassed. He said opposing this bill does not mean withholding such compassion.

“This is not about marriage, and it’s not about non-discrimination,” he said. “It’s about societal acceptance.”

BYU student Melanie Tirrell attended the event and brought friends, family members and fellow students. She said she has been involved in such movements for years because she believes people must act to do what benefits society the most.

Reid urged attendees to act quickly to tell their legislators their views as the bill is set to go before the Utah Senate in January. He added that if the bill passes the Senate, it certainly will pass in the House of Representatives.

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