SALT LAKE CITY— The Senate room on Wednesday night, Feb. 26, was standing room only as a historic meeting and first ever conversation between Utah state officials and members of the LGBT community was held.
Utahns from all over the state traveled to the capitol to appear before House Representatives, Senators, and even the Senate President Wayne Niederhauser, R-Salt Lake City, in hopes of starting a dialogue with legislators about the struggles and hardships they and their family members have experienced while living in the state of Utah.
SB100 anti-discrimination bill sponsor, Sen. Steve Urquhart, R-St. George, and Co-sponsor Sen. Jim Dabakis, D-Salt Lake City, hosted the meeting, which was attended by various members from the House and Senate.
The aim of this meeting, according to Urquhart, was as an educational activity where Utah officials could learn of the struggles members of the LGBT community face and how they feel their fears could be alleviated through the passage of certain legislation, specifically SB100.
The meeting was also an effort to do things differently than the state of Arizona, whose legislature introduced Arizona Senate Bill 1062, a bill that would allow business owners to refuse services to gay customers on the basis of religious beliefs. The bill passed through the House and the Senate but Republican Gov. Jan Brewer vetoed the bill.
Twelve LGBT Utahns were invited to appear before state officials and voice their experiences. The testimonies ranged from individuals from the gay and transgendered community, to parents of gay children.
Many who gave testimonies expressed their desire to possibly, yet reluctantly, move out of the state of Utah because of their fear of losing jobs and housing.
Mary Smithson, a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and mother of a gay son, expressed her heartache of having her son living in a different state, stating “he doesn’t want to worry about losing his job or housing.”
She pleaded to the officials to pass legislation that would issue the housing and job security that SB100 would provide for individuals like her son. Smithson said she hopes Utah will create safe spaces for her son and people like him who worry they will unable to create a life in Utah free from fear of being fired or evicted because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
Justin Utley, another witness at the meeting, explained to the senators and representatives that he was fired from his place of employment because his employers realized he was gay after reading through e-mails sent from his work computer. Utley said his boss said that she would not have even hired him in the first place if she had known he was gay.
“Most transgendered and gay Utahns are not only bringing a briefcase to work, but they are also bringing a closet as well; for fear of being legally discriminated against for reasons that have nothing to do with their job performance,” Utley said.
Candace Metzler, a transgendered Utah native, spoke at the meeting and said she was let go from her job, and wasn’t even considered for other jobs she was clearly qualified for, because of her lifestyle. The struggle she experienced in finding employment led to her eventual homelessness.
Even current BYU students attended the meeting to speak out against the discrimination that they feel is occurring throughout the state. Samy Galvez, a senior and neuroscience student, told officials, “The system scares us.”
He hopes to eventually see a system that is, according to him, in accordance to the people, and to the love he has felt from others while living in Utah and attending BYU as a gay student.
The leaders in attendance expressed their deep gratitude for those who spoke during the meeting. Sen. Gene Davis, D-Salt Lake City, said, “(this meeting was) one of the most important dialogues in the 45 day session we’ve had.”
The Senate president, Wayne Niederhauser, characterized the meeting as breaking bread where officials could communicate with their constituents to learn more from them, and to understand their unique viewpoint.
He said, “My hope is that we can have less disgust and more respect, less prejudice and more understanding, less closed minds and more listening, and that we can have less hate and more love.” But he also made it very clear that passing SB100 would also require patience.
Urquhart closed the meeting by saying, “This isn’t mine, this is ours, and we will claim the prize.”