SALT LAKE CITY — Members of the so-called “Capitol 13,” who blocked access to a committee meeting at the Utah State Legislature in protest of a gay-rights bill that had been killed, intend to plead not guilty to misdemeanor charges.
At a news conference on Thursday, the gay rights activists locked arms with their lawyers on the Capitol steps and decried their prosecution. The Salt Lake City Prosecutor’s Office filed class B misdemeanor charges of “disrupting a meeting or procession.”
“The Capitol 13 pleads not guilty,” Troy Williams said.
The group had retained some big lawyers to represent them, including renowned defense attorneys Ron Yengich and Tara Isaacson, who stood with their clients.
“These folks don’t have a voice here,” Yengich said, pointing at the Capitol building.
He compared the persecution of the LGBT community to that of Mormon pioneers, who fled from state to state before founding Utah, and accused state lawmakers of ignoring gay rights to pander to their base of conservatives.
“We look forward to our day in court,” he said. “You don’t want protests? Do your job, legislature!”
On Feb. 10, a group of gay rights activists blockaded the entrance to the governor’s office in support of SB 100, which would have provided protections in housing and employment that included sexual orientation and gender identity. The bill, sponsored by Sen. Steve Urquhart, R-St. George, and Sen. Jim Dabakis, D-Salt Lake City, was never heard because lawmakers refused to consider any LGBT-related bills while the state appealed the ruling that struck down Utah’s ban on same-sex marriage.
After Utah Highway Patrol troopers refused to arrest the group, they moved to a legislative committee room, where they prevented people from getting in. After a heated confrontation with lawmakers, the 13 were placed in handcuffs.
The Salt Lake City Prosecutor’s Office declined to comment on the charges Thursday. The group is due to make their first court appearance Sept. 26.