It's here! Equality Utah's 2018 calendar featuring our beautiful and brilliant LGBTQ community and allies is now on sale! Find it in our Facebook store. This project is made possible by generous support of the Weinholtz Family Foundation. Photos by David Newkirk and calendar design by Karl Lundeberg.
Jason Olsen is a serial entrepreneur based in Salt Lake City, Utah and is the founder of Image Studios 360, Prestman Auto, and Automobia. He has extensive experience in startups, forming his first company at the age of 16. He has been called the illegitimate love-child of strategy and creativity, harnessing the power of both traits to build uniquely branded companies that have strong cultures and clearly defined visions. He was a finalist for the Ernst & Young's "Entrepreneur of The Year" program in 2017, is a member of Entrepreneurs Organization (EO), and has been recognized by the INC 5000 "Fastest Growing Companies in America" two years running, as well as the top 100 growing companies in Utah by the Mountain West Capital Network. He currently serves as an advisory board member for the Westminster Social Impact Incubator and is a graduate of the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Business Program. He is also a private pilot, drone enthusiast, paraglider, slow Dvorak typer, and skier.
Today, we received a grim report from the Utah Department of Health (UDOH) detailing the astronomical rise in youth suicides in our state, which rose more than 140 percent from 2011 to 2015. After calling in the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to help investigate this epidemic, the UDOH published this revealing report. While there is much to fear about that rapidly ascending line in the graph of youth suicides, there are two pieces of information on which I am choosing to focus from this report because they give some hope.
1. Given that only 40 percent of the cases included information on the youths’ sexual orientation, and 15 percent of those identified as sexual minorities, I was pleased that the UDOH recognized the need to make sure that gathering this particular information is institutionalized to better understand the unique risks faced by LGBTQ youth. That gives us hope.
2. Secondly, the report names those protective factors that reduce the risk of suicide in young people, and it’s exactly what we know to be true. Inclusion. Acceptance. Love. That gives us hope.
But these changes won’t come without our attention and action.
In addition to collecting data about sexual identity, it’s paramount these agencies also focus on gender identity. At Equality Utah, we are dedicated to educating UDOH and others on the unique challenges faced by our trans* siblings and friends.
And we must work even harder to create a culture that tells all young people that they belong. When all sectors of society, including schools, churches, government and families, foster a culture of deep belonging, it truly saves lives. This is the most powerful and impactful way we can reduce suicides in our state.
We will not stop our work until we achieve this objective. And we want to thank all community, church, business, school, elected and public officials who have proactively worked to advance inclusive policies that affirm LGBTQ youth.
Clearly, we have a lot of work to do to shift the culture of this state. We’re not there yet. But working together we can transform a culture of exclusion to inclusion, fear to love and despair to hope.
Equality Utah Stands with Transgender Troops in Wake of Trump's Trans Military Announcement.
Today President Trump announced plans to reinstate a ban of transgender military members in the military. Thousands of transgender Americans serve in our military and are putting their lives on the line to keep us safe and free.
"When politics are difficult the LGBTQ community is readily attacked and has historically borne the brunt of the politically powerful," said board chair Rusty Andrade.
Equality Utah board member and former military servicemember Sarah Gene Hjalmarson said, "We have always and will always serve with honor and integrity as do those who serve honorably at our side. Selfless service is dependent on nothing more or less than how I carry myself in uniform."
During the 2016 presidential race, Trump called himself a "real friend" of the LGBTQ community in the wake of the Orlando nightclub shooting. "Thank you to the LGBT community! I will fight for you while Hillary brings in more people that will threaten your freedoms and beliefs,” he tweeted in June.
Transgender military service has been a success, extensive research has confirmed. An inclusive policy promotes readiness and the sad history of "don't ask don't tell" by loyally serving transgender troops is not somewhere we can return.
"We already have qualified and trained transgender troops who are ready to serve their country. Discharging them based on their gender identity goes against our values of hard work and community," said Troy Williams, executive director.
Even Senator Hatch doesn't agree with Trump's latest move. “I don’t think we should be discriminating against anyone. Transgender people are people, and deserve the best we can do for them," said Senator Hatch.
Seija was on the Board of Pride of Monterey County where she helped organize a range of events for the LGBTQ community in the small, central-coast towns of Monterey, Salinas, and Carmel. Having come out while living in San Francisco in the early 90s, Seija knew she enjoyed the welcome of that unique and secure community surrounding her. Knowing how spoiled she was, Seija sees her recent relocation to Utah as an incredible opportunity to foster a celebration of diversity across the state. Unlike other board members, Seija’s rap sheet to date only includes arrests for peace protests, but she’s ready to branch out if those means become necessary.
In her professional life, Seija is the Executive Vice President of Curriculum at Imagine Learning. In her twenty-five year career in K-12 educational publishing, Seija has worked with a variety of teams to develop online, print, and software programs for teachers and K-12 students.
Jordan B. Smith is a Real Estate Broker with Windermere Real Estate specializing in commercial acquisition and development. He grew up in Salt Lake City and has lived on the East and West coasts. Studying at Westminster College ultimately brought him back to Utah, but his most valuable education came through life experience. Growing up in a family whose business endeavors led to some of Utah’s most notable infrastructures, he studied the art of negotiation and deal-making—skills that have contributed to his success.
Jordan is passionate about Equality Utah because he knows equality is paramount to success. His mother, a white woman from Utah, began dating his father, a black man from Texas, soon after anti-miscegenation laws were struck down by the Supreme Court in 1967. Jordan's parents constantly reminded their five children that they were fortunate to be a family and to never take equality for granted. This life lesson stuck with Jordan as he became involved with organizations fighting against inequality both locally and nationwide.
Before joining the board of directors of Equality Utah, Jordan hosted several successful fundraisers for Equality Utah that started him down the philanthropic path he continues today. In addition to volunteering for various local non-profits, Jordan has served on the Young Conservatives Committee for Freedom to Marry—a national GOP campaign for marriage equality..