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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, February 14 2014 - Volume 42 Issue 07
Thirteen arrested in Utah Gay rights protest
Section One
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Thirteen arrested in Utah Gay rights protest

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

Thirteen LGBT rights activists were arrested February 10 at the Utah state capitol during a sit-in to demand that the state legislature act on a bill banning housing and employment discrimination based on sexual orientation.

According to Reuters news agency, 20 activists assembled in the state capitol building and announced they would not leave until Senate President Wayne Niederhauser agreed to allow the bill to get a hearing.

'For five years, the Utah legislature has refused to hear a non-discrimination bill. We're tired of their excuses, we're tired of the delays,' organizer Troy Williams said as the protest started outside the governor's office.

During the protest, bill sponsor Senator Steve Urquhart, a Republican, shuttled messages between activists and state Senate President Wayne Niederhauser, also a Republican, in hopes of finding an amicable end to the stalemate.

Before they were arrested, activists turned down a request to leave the Capitol in exchange for a closed-door meeting with Niederhauser later in the day, and an offer of a town hall-style meeting with legislators in the coming week.

'It just feels a little silly that they've called to arrest us when all we want is to not be discriminated against,' protester Dustin Trent told the Salt Lake Daily Herald a moment before being handcuffed. 'It's time for us to engage in civil disobedience.'

Thirteen of the 20 were arrested after they blocked the doorway to a Senate committee chamber. They were held on suspicion of disorderly conduct and then released, according to Utah Department of Public Safety spokesman Dwayne Baird.

The arrestees were held for about six hours and were greeted outside the jail by some two-dozen supporters who cheered and snapped cell phone camera photos of the group.

'This is the proudest day of my life,' said protester Donna Weinholtz.

The legislation activists want to have heard would make it illegal to use sexual orientation as a justification for discrimination in job and housing issues. The measure includes a religious exemption for churches.

Similar legislation has been passed by local governments in more than a dozen Utah cities over the past five years. Salt Lake City's ordinance, the first to pass, had the backing of the Mormon church.

State lawmakers have refused to give the anti-discrimination bill a hearing in each of the past five legislative sessions. A week ago, Republican lawmakers decided against considering the bill for a sixth time after Utah's attorney general advised that it might affect the outcome of the same-sex marriage case pending at the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals.

Democratic Utah State Senator Jim Dabakis, who married his partner of more than 27 years in December after a federal court struck down state law barring same-sex marriages, applauded the activists for pushing to restart a debate of the bill.

'The dialogue is back on the table now and that's where it should be,' he said.

A trio of statewide polls, including one from the conservative Brigham Young University, have found that as many as 72% of Utahans support a non-discrimination law. Republican Governor Gary Herbert has said he supports the concept of a non-discrimination bill.

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