This legislative session, our entire state benefited from the creation and passage of historic legislation that protects all Utah citizens. It was successful because it was crafted with the intent to honor the dignity of each and every one of us.
After our positive interaction with the leadership of the LDS Church, we are left disappointed by their recent statements denigrating the validity of our families. As LGBT Utahns, our families are not counterfeit. They are real, they are beautiful, they reflect the diversity and the greatness of our state.
We have made great progress, and we still have more work left to do. We can change laws, true, but the most difficult task ahead is to open hearts. As we reach out to all Utahns, we will not waver in our commitment to equality in all things—not only in the workplace and housing, but also in family and marriage.
Sens. Adams and Urquhart’s SB296 providing nondiscrimination for LGBT people and religious liberties becomes law
Salt Lake City, UT – March 11, 2015 – The Utah State House of Representatives passed the most significant piece of legislation protecting lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) Utahns in the state’s history. After passing through the Senate earlier this week, SB296, a bill providing nondiscrimination protections for LGBT Utahns in housing in employment will now be sent to Governor Herbert’s desk to become law.
Equality Utah Executive Director Troy Williams hailed the vote saying, “This is a monumental day for Utah. This vote proves that protections for gay and transgender people in housing and the workplace can gracefully coexist with the rights of people of faith. One does not exist at the expense of the other. The unprecedented spirit of collaboration – even when it was not easy – between Republicans and Democrats, gay people and straight, religious and non-religious was necessary to craft a bill that benefits all Utahns.”
This is the third year that Senator Steve Urquhart has run this type of legislation, amending Utah’s nondiscrimination statue to include sexual orientation and gender identity, and the seventh year that Equality Utah has been involved in this type of legislation.
“For the first time in Utah history, gay and transgender people are now protected at work and at home, in every city and in every county of our beautiful state,” Williams said. “I share my deepest gratitude for all those who over the years and over these last 45 days made this moment possible. This is a moment to celebrate.”
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About Equality Utah
Formed in 2001, Equality Utah is the largest lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender advocacy group in the state. Its mission is to secure equal rights and protections for LGBT Utahns and their families, and its vision is of a fair and just Utah. For more information, please visit equalityutah.org.
Here we are, on the Eve of Equality. For seven years, Equality Utah has been advocating for employment and housing protections on Capitol Hill. Sadly, every year, our legislation has met a disappointing end. Over the years, we’ve experienced stalemates, moratoriums, rallies, protests and arrests. Hopes have risen and hearts have been broken. And now here we are again, closer than we have ever been.
Except, this is the year, we win!
Today at noon Equality Utah will also be participating in a historic press conference with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. We will announce support for the newly drafted SB296, co-sponsored by Senators Steve Urquhart and Stuart Adams. The event will be broadcast live on the Utah Senate’s YouTube Channel.
Later this evening, we’d like to invite you to attend a town hall meeting at 6:30 p.m. Senators Dabakis and Urquhart will be present, as well as Equality Utah Board Chair and Legislative Counsel Cliff Rosky to discuss the revised legislation. We will discuss what it contains, how it came to be and what we need to do to over the few remaining days of the session to make it a reality.
The Church truly opened the door this session to a new conversation on Capitol Hill. Their endorsement of nondiscrimination legislation in housing and employment was a game changer for many legislators. The Church also expressed a desire for religious liberties to be clarified in concert with the advancement of LGBT nondiscrimination protections. It was a seemingly tall order.
Many in our community bristled. “Why should we compromise on our civil liberties?” Some asked, “Will religious liberty just be an excuse to codify gay discrimination into state law?” We heard those questions. We asked many ourselves.
At the end of the day, we all live in America. Diverse communities can coexist harmoniously. People with differing perspectives must come together at the table to talk. And to listen. And that is exactly what we set out to do.
What happened next was unprecedented.
Senators Urquhart and Dabakis went to work with Equality Utah’s Board Chair Cliff Rosky. We sat down with Republican legislators Senator Stuart Adams and Representative Brad Lee. We were determined to hash out our differences and create a win-win for all sides. It definitely wasn’t easy.
We knew where we stood. We would never allow LGBT Utahns to be singled out for discrimination. But we also knew that respect for religious communities could also stand alongside protections for gay and transgender workers and tenants. This didn’t have to be a zero-sum game.
As the process began, people started to come together. Democrats, Republicans, gay people, straight people and Mormons all sat around the table to craft a new piece of legislation.
Through literally round-the-clock work and Herculean efforts at understanding and compromise, the end result is a bill that protects LGBT workers and tenants from unjust discrimination while it clarifies exemptions for religious institutions and maintains protections for religious expression.
SB296 was born.
This new bill is not a compromise; it is a truly a collaboration. The language does not contain a sweeping religious liberty exemption. It will not allow employers to use their deeply held religious beliefs as a justification for discrimination.
What will be the impact of this law? The Williams Institute’s 2014 report estimated that approximately 55,000 LGBT adults live in Utah, with 37,000 of those in the workforce. When passed, our legislation will protect all of them. This will be a historic and hard-earned victory for our community – one that can be used as a model for building bridges in other states across the nation.
I want to acknowledge the hard work of Senators Dabakis and Urquhart. They have been fierce advocates for our community. We don’t have bigger allies on Capitol Hill. I also want to acknowledge the tremendous contribution of Cliff Rosky. He has been working around the clock, weekend and weeknights, helping to craft this legislation. He regularly works long past midnight and is sending me emails before I awake at 6 a.m.
I also want to recognize that Equality Utah would not be here today without the groundwork laid by the phenomenal Brandie Balken. We miss her daily, and are incredibly fortunate that she is never further than a phone call or text away when we need guidance through difficult waters.
So many people have brought us to this moment. And you are one of them. We deeply appreciate all of the work you have done; calling your legislators, signing postcards, volunteering for phone banks and showing up to lobby. You lift our spirits every day. We are also grateful to the women from Mormons Building Bridges for braving a snowstorm last week to deliver flowers in support of nondiscrimination. They were welcomed by President Neiderhauser and House Speaker Greg Hughes.
It’s not over yet. In fact, it is just beginning. Passage of our new bill is by no means fait accompli. We are closer than we have ever been, but anything could happen before the session ends on March 12. Please contact your representatives. Write them, call them, drop by Capitol Hill and bring them more flowers.
Harvey Milk said it best, “Rights are not won on paper. They are won only by those who make their voices heard.”
Please, make your voice heard today. Together we will shape the political future of Utah and ensure that 55,000 members of our community can live, work and love in the state we call home.
The first two weeks of the 2015 Utah Legislative session have truly been epic. Utah is once again ground zero for the national debate regarding LGBT rights and religious liberty. Advocates on all sides of the debate are closely watching our next move. And yes, the stakes are high. What happens in Utah will have lasting effects in other states currently debating these issues. No pressure, right?
Equality Utah is ready for the challenge.
Senator Urquhart is once again championing our employment and housing bill SB100. Senator Dabakis is sponsoring SB99, which would allow our community equal access to public accommodations.
The passion around these issues reignited last week when the leadership of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints came out in support of LGBT nondiscrimination laws. Elder Oaks declared that the Church supports, “protecting the rights of our LGBT citizens in such areas as housing, employment and public accommodation in hotels, restaurants and transportation—protections which are not available in many parts of the country.”
The LDS Church leadership's statement was also linked with a call for LGBT protections to be balanced with religious freedom. What exactly that balance looks like is now the subject of fierce debate on Capitol Hill. SB100 already preserves the state’s robust religious exemptions in both housing and employment. For example, a church or church owned business is exempt from hiring or housing people not of their faith. We have agreement there.
The crux of the debate is one of individual conscience. Should a member of a faith be exempt from civil rights laws based on their deeply held religious beliefs? Equality Utah does not believe that religious freedom should provide a justification for individuals to fire, evict, or deny service to anyone and everyone whom they regard as a sinner. If anyone can discriminate based on our religious beliefs, then any form of discrimination would be legal and unregulated — including discrimination against racial, ethnic, and religious minorities.
We can’t allow people to pick and choose what laws they want to follow.
Equality Utah will oppose any legislation that erodes civil rights protections and codifies LGBT discrimination into state law. This will be an aggressively debated issue in the coming weeks. We need you to stand with Senators Urquhart and Dabakis as they work to advance legislation that will protect all Utahns from discrimination.
Our board chair Cliff Rosky debated these issues with Sutherland Institute on KUER’s RadioWest. You can listen to their in-depth conversation here.
Freedom Brunch February 14th
What will make it possible to continue to pass pro-LGBT legislation in the future? Simply having more Equality Utah endorsed candidates serving on Capitol Hill. Please join us for our Freedom Brunch on February 14 at 10am in the Capitol Rotunda. This annual event is our PAC fundraiser and provides the funding we need to identify and support candidates who will advocate for our community.
Last year we saw 19 of our endorsed candidates win elections! This was a record number for Equality Utah. We are looking forward to dramatically increasing that number in the future.
Citizen Lobby Day training
Recently Equality Utah co-hosted The Citizen Lobby Day training with the ACLU of Utah, Planned Parenthood Association of Utah, and Alliance for a Better Utah. Topics of discussion included: how to become a citizen lobbyist, how a bill becomes a law, the 2015 legislative session overview, and online resources.
Coalition partners also discussed bills that were important to them and how they relate to everyday Utahns. We hosted a discussion regarding SB100 with community members that were present. With a total attendance of 92 people, up from an attendance of 15 people last year, it’s safe to say that Utahns are more interested than ever in the legislative process.
We can’t stress enough the importance of making your voice heard during the session. Please consider contacting your legislators, attending our Capitol events, writing letters to the editor and encouraging your religious community or place of work to publicly come out in support of SB100
Provo Mayor supports the LGBT Community
You know the world is changing when the mayor of Provo comes out as an ally for the LGBT community. Writing on his popular “Provo Insider” blog, Mayor John Curtis made an impassioned plea for love and acceptance for his LGBT neighbors. He proclaimed,
“There is so much good in Provo, but sometimes I worry that our kindness is reserved for people who look, act and believe like we do. It is sobering to think that LGBT youth are at least three times more likely than heterosexual youth to attempt suicide, and our homeless youth have a disproportionate share of LGBT members. It is my hope that the city of Provo will foster an atmosphere in which every young person—gay or straight—feels that his or her life is highly valued."
We express our gratitude to Mayor Curtis for his kind words. His statement will send a powerful message to LGBT youth living in Provo that they are loved and treasured.
On Our Way
It’s often difficult to measure the success of our work. Laws change much slower than we like. Our hearts ache when we hear stories of friends who have lost their jobs because of who they are. Our anger is kindled when we hear stories of LGBT youth who take their lives. This hastens our frustration when lawmakers drag their feet, stall or block positive legislation. There is great urgency in our work. We must advance forward.
Author and activist Riane Eisler laid out how we create powerful transformations in society, “We can’t do it by ourselves,” she explained, “but if enough of us do it, we change the cultural climate, and then the leaders follow.”
You are creating the cultural change that is needed to achieve full legal equality. You are having the difficult conversations with family and co-workers. You are sharing your lives and opening hearts. And, because of that, we will achieve every dream we’ve ever imagined. We will pass our nondiscrimination legislation. We will have equal access to the public square. We will create a climate in Utah that is welcoming and accepting of our friends and family. And we are going to do it by working together!
Thank you for your passion and support.
Day 2 of the Legislature was certainly more eventful than Day 1! The LDS Church’s new statement on nondiscrimination is what every Utahn has been talking about. Within the Church’s statement there are elements that we applaud and other elements that concern us. This message lays out where we stand.
What We Support
This is an historic day for all Utahns. For several years, polls have repeatedly shown that an overwhelming majority of Utahns support the passage of nondiscrimination laws that protect gay and transgender people. In our state, we all agree that no one should be fired from their jobs, evicted from their homes, or denied public services, simply because they are gay or transgender.
Yesterday, the LDS Church formally announced that it unequivocally supports the passage of nondiscrimination laws in employment and housing across the United States, and around the world. The Church specifically called upon federal, state, and local governments to pass nondiscrimination laws that protect LGBT citizens.
On the subject of employment and housing, the situation is now crystal clear: The People of Utah support Senator Urquhart’s bill. The Church supports Senator Urquhart’s bill. There are only two steps left in this process: This year, the Legislature must pass Senator Urquhart’s bill, and the Governor must sign it. Simply put, it is time. The Church has spoken, and the marriage litigation is over. It is our Legislature’s obligation to pass laws that reflect Utah’s values.
Our Concern with Religious Liberties
In today’s statement, the Church also expressed concerns about the religious liberty of organizations and individuals. In particular, the apostles spoke about whether doctors and pharmacists should be permitted to deny treatment and medication to patients based on their religious beliefs.
Needless to say, Equality Utah strongly disagrees with the Church’s positions on providing access to these vital services. Healthcare is among our community’s most basic needs. We do not believe that professionals should be allowed to use religion as a basis to pick and choose which laws to follow. The laws of society must govern us all.
But whatever one thinks about these issues, it is important to understand that they have nothing to do with employment and housing laws—basic protections that govern how employers treat workers, and how landlords treat tenants. Rather, the Church’s concerns about religious liberty are specifically limited to what are known as “public accommodations” laws—laws that govern how businesses serve customers. Clearly, we have more work to do here.
Our Common Ground
In spite of our disagreements, we still made a great deal of progress today, and there remains a great deal of common ground between us. Time and again, the LDS Church has affirmed that employers and landlords should not be permitted to discriminate against gay or transgender people. And we agree: There is no reason to allow discrimination in housing or employment practices based solely on a person’s gender identity, expression or orientation.
In short, this is a day of good news and bad news. On the one hand, we are profoundly disappointed by the Church’s remarks about doctors and pharmacists, which touch upon our community’s access to vital services. On the other hand, we are deeply heartened by the Church’s support for employment and housing protections. It is our hope that with the support of the Church and the People, we will soon achieve our goal: giving all Utahns a fair opportunity to earn a living and pay the rent.
The Work Ahead
We need your support now more than ever. Your voices must be heard on Capitol Hill. Both Senators Urquhart and Dabakis need your support. We are hosting a citizen lobbyist training on Monday, February 2 at 6pm at the Capitol Board Room #240. Please join us and learn how to successfully engage your Legislators. We have opportunities to phone bank and volunteer at the office, it will take all of us, working together, to make this happen. Please contact to learn how you can get involved.
If volunteering isn’t for you, there are other ways to get involved (as always, you can make a one-time or recurring donation to fuel our vital work, and come show the support of the majority by packing the Capitol on February 14 in the Rotunda for our Freedom Brunch. Do it for love, do it for freedom, do it for fairness!
Join our work to elect fair-minded candidates all throughout the state. Ticket information is HERE.
This is our moment. This is the culmination of years of work from many people. As always, Equality Utah remains deeply and thoroughly committed to achieving a fair and just Utah for everyone—and above all, to securing equal rights and protections for LGBT Utahns and our families. We will always fight for full equality under the law, and we will never settle for anything less. Let’s get to work!
Equality Utah is constantly engaged in securing LGBTQ rights throughout the state. We cannot effectively do this work without you! Your donations help us continue to fight for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals to feel safe in their work and in their homes. Everyday there are forces at work that would deny these basic rights to LGBTQ Utahns. Without your help the work is slow and tedious, and with your help we thrive and we will succeed.
Equality Utah Foundation provides our community with education opportunities. The Foundation engages in programs that focus on issues impacting lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Utahns. These programs provide the LGBTQ community and their allies with the necessary tools to effectively change hearts and minds. By giving to Equality Utah Foundation you are ensuring that these programs will continue and that more programs can be developed!
(Donations to the C3 are tax-deductible.)
Equality Utah’s C4 is where the meat of our legislative efforts take place. The C4 enables us to draft and promote lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender inclusive legislation. Mobilizing thousands of voters and lobbying state and local lawmakers to secure rights and protections would not be possible without Equality Utah’s C4. By giving to Equality Utah’s C4 you are a big part of the history making efforts that will make Utah a safe place for everyone!
(Donations to the C4 are NOT tax-deductible.)
If you would like to donate to our PAC, you may do so through our Equality Utah PAC website.
If you would like to learn more about Equality Utah's planned giving program, please click here or email .
It's here! Equality Utah's annual calendar has arrived. You can own one of these beautifully crafted calendars for only $10 (includes shipping and handling).
Celebrate the entire year with heartwarming photos of the LGBT community and their allies.
Donna Gonzalez Weinholtz grew up Florida, a fourth generation granddaughter of Florida pioneer, Manual Gonzalez, and third generation granddaughter to European immigrants. She is currently retired. Prior to joining the board of Equality Utah as Vice Chair, Weinholtz was among those arrested during the 2014 Utah Legislative session for civil disobedience in a sit-in at the State Capitol urging the legislature to hear a bill that would ban discrimination in housing and employment for gay and transgender Utahns. She was also recognized in 2013 by the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) Utah chapter with its Allies for Equality Award with her husband, Michael Weinholtz.
Before retiring, Weinholtz managed a temporary staffing agency and became the Florida division President of a start-up staffing service and successfully opened three additional offices. Weinholtz received her Bachelor’s in Political Science from Stetson University. A resident of Utah for sixteen years, she has a husband, a son in college and two very large Siamese cats.
Steven Verno is the Salt Lake North East Region President of Zions Bank, a regional bank headquartered in Salt Lake City. He has 36 years of experience in the banking industry, with extensive experience in Human Resource Management, Small Business Lending, Consumer Banking, and Financial Analysis. He currently chairs the Zions Bank LGBT Business Forum and serves on the bank’s Diversity Council. He also serves on the Finance Committee for Crossroads Urban Center, a local non-profit organization that assists and organizes Utah residents with low incomes, diversities, and disabilities. Verno is President of the Salt Lake City Gay Athletic Association, an organization that provides competitive recreational activities to the LGBT community. He previously served as the Chair of the Board of Trustees of Christ United Methodist Church, where he was the Youth Director for many years. He has also worked as a volunteer for the Plan B Theater, Junior Achievement, and the Huntsman Cancer Foundation.
Verno earned his Bachelors degree in finance from the University of Utah and earned three degrees from the American Institute of Banking. He is a native of Salt Lake City and has a husband and partner of 13 years.
Michele T. Corigliano is a native of New Jersey, and the daughter of immigrant parents from Italy and Lebanon. For the last 17 years, she has owned a chain of successful day spas throughout Salt Lake City. She was also a business owner in New Jersey and later in Southern California.
Corigliano has been active in the LGBT movement since the early 90’s when her cousin dealt with horrific discrimination as he passed away from complications due to AIDS. The love, loyalty and service of his friends and community has inspired the last nearly 25 years her service to the LGBT community.
She earned her Bachelor’s in Business Administration from Pepperdine University in Malibu, California with a minor in Economics. She received her M.B.A. from Westminster College of Utah in 1997 with an emphasis in Marketing. She resides in Salt Lake City and is a single mother of two adult sons.
Rusty Andrade has volunteered for various organizations serving the LGBTQ community since 2000. His work in the civil rights movement was formalized as co-founder and president of the Valparaiso University School of Law’s LGBTQ and ally student organization. Andrade’s involvement with Equality Utah has included volunteer service and membership on the Board of Directors for the Political Action Committee prior to his role on Equality Utah c4 Board of Directors. Andrade also serves as a member of the ACLU of Utah’s Legal Panel.
Professionally, Andrade is an attorney working as General Counsel for several Utah franchise companies and works in private legal practice in the areas of corporate law and transactions. Prior to his current work, Andrade was legal advisor for real estate developers and served in various roles in the development and operation of restaurant franchise companies. He is involved as a volunteer attorney through several Salt Lake legal services groups.
Andrade received his Juris Doctor from Valparaiso University and his Bachelor’s degree in Computer Science from American Intercontinental University.