Summer debate slated for discrimination bill
February 9, 2008
This is the first year the Utah Legislature has considered a bill that would provide protection from discrimination by employers against homosexuals and transgender people. But lawmakers won’t vote on the legislation in 2008.
Since June, when Equality Utah asked the Utah Labor Commission to begin keeping track, 14 complaints of discrimination against gay or transgender people were documented.
The sponsor of House Bill 89, Christine Johnson, an openly gay Democrat who represents parts of western Summit County, said she is pleased lawmakers are willing to study the issue this summer instead of just killing her proposal.
In other states, it typically took seven years from the time similar measures were introduced until they became law.
HB 89 would add gay and transgender workers to a list of protected classes in Utah’s Antidiscrimination Act.
But critics say changing the act could encourage other groups to seek protection from the law.
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Those arguments are based in "fear" and "ignorance," Johnson countered.
She praised companies including Zions Bank, which have adopted policies that protect gay and transgender employees from being discriminated against.
Still, some of her colleagues on Capitol Hill believe discrimination based on sexual orientation is not a problem in Utah, Johnson said.
Pushing the bill through the state’s conservative Legislature could be difficult, Johnson admits.
Her bill does not contemplate controversial marriage equality for homosexuals, she stressed.
Members of the House Business and Labor Committee agreed to study the bill further at the interim legislative session this summer.
"There was so much that needed to be understood about, not only the implications of the legislation, but also who the legislation would impact," Johnson said in a telephone interview Friday. "It will give us an opportunity to have longer discussions, more in-depth testimony and a greater understanding about how this legislation has positively impacted other states."
The committee’s "relatively open-minded" reception of the bill was promising, Johnson said.
"I think that the committee members could see that there is a real need for this legislation," she said. "I’m very optimistic because the greatest obstacle in fighting discrimination at any level is educating those who do not suffer discrimination."
A recent Salt Lake Tribune poll showed 44 percent of people surveyed would support HB 89, Johnson claimed.
Associated Press contributed to the report.