Non-discrimination bill to return to the Utah legislature

Posted at 9:31 PM, Jan 30, 2013
and last updated 2013-01-31 00:54:15-05

SALT LAKE CITY -- A statewide non-discrimination bill will make a comeback at the Utah State Legislature, with members of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community optimistic that it may finally pass.

At a town hall meeting on Wednesday night, the gay rights advocacy group Equality Utah outlined its plan to get the bill through the legislature, urging those in attendance to get involved on Utah's Capitol Hill.

"I want this bill to pass," Brandie Balken, Equality Utah's executive director, said with tears in her eyes.

About 150 people filled the Salt Lake County Council chambers to talk about the issue of workplace discrimination in the gay community. Equality Utah pointed to numbers compiled by Utah's Labor Department over 18 months that found 3 to 5 complaints a month (almost one a week) from people reporting discrimination based on sexual orientation.

"Today in Utah, as in 29 other states, you can legally be fired, passed up for promotion, or not granted an interview purely based on your real or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity," Balken said.

For many, it is deeply personal. Will Carlson, an attorney who works for Syracuse City, faced hostility at his workplace when his sexual orientation was publicized -- in a very public way.

"A member of the planning commission in the city where I work, decided to publicize my sexual orientation," Carlson told FOX 13. "As if it should have been a reason for my disqualification as a city attorney."

Carlson had the support of Syracuse's mayor and others at city hall, but he knows others do not get that support.

"It's a little disconcerting," he said. "Everyone wants to be judged on how they do their job, and whether they're productive and the work product they create. No one wants to be judged on who they love when they go home at the end of the day.

Speaking to the crowd, Equality Utah leaders were coy about what specific language was in the bill. They insisted they would not compromise on gender identity, bringing applause from many. The bill does not include protections for political speech (such as marching in a gay pride parade) to ensure easier passage.

Balken told the crowd she believes the bill will make it to the floor of the House or Senate this year, but she predicted a close vote. Equality Utah has hired former House Speaker Greg Curtis to lobby the legislature on their behalf this year.

"Three out of four Utahns believe that these protections should be passed, that they reflect our common values of fairness, of opportunity and equal opportunity for all," Balken said.

Equality Utah urged LGBT community members -- and their straight allies -- to speak up and share their stories. Outside the council chambers, a photo booth was set up to take pictures for people to include in letters going to lawmakers to show the human impact of the proposed legislation.

"It really needs to be a question of total equality in the workplace, on both sides of the fence for employers and employees, without any regard to their sexual orientation or gender identity," said Michael Sanders, a business owner.

The bill is expected to be unveiled within the next week.