City leaders are sketching out plans for a public accommodation ordinance aimed at protecting LGBTQ individuals from discrimination in deciding which bathrooms they use in public. Similar laws have been discussed nationally that would allow transgender people the right to use public bathrooms of their identified gender.
Salt Lake City Councilman Stan Penfold said on Monday this protection is necessary “so that all people, regardless of their identity or how they identify, feel like they are welcome in Salt Lake City at every location.”
Such a move would boost Salt Lake City’s status as an inclusive and equal city in the eyes of human rights groups.
Chad Griffin, president of the Washington, D.C.,-based Human Rights Campaign, celebrated Salt Lake as a city committed to advancing LGBTQ rights in a politically conservative state. Griffin commended Salt Lake for electing two gay councilmen, Penfold and Derek Kitchen, and a gay mayor, Jackie Biskupski. In May, the city also renamed 20 blocks of 900 East to Harvey Milk Boulevard to commemorate America’s first openly gay politician.
“That visibility and their leadership matters,” Griffin said. “It sends a powerful message to every LGBTQ young person who fears rejection from their community simply because of who they are or who they love. It sends a message that their city not only welcomes them but celebrates and embraces them.”
The Human Rights Campaign recently released its Municipal Equality Index (MEI) rating 506 American cities on 44 criteria. Sixty cities achieved flawless scores of 100. Griffin said progress is being made despite hundreds of anti-LGBTQ bills and campaign rhetoric across the nation.
Salt Lake City scored a 69 on this year’s index, the highest of eight Utah municipalities evaluated. Provo and Ogden rank second highest with scores of 47 apiece. The lowest Utah city tallied in the MEI is Orem at 23.
If a public accommodation ordinance is passed, Salt Lake’s MEI score would no doubt boost.
Similar to a nondiscrimination housing and employment ordinance, Penford expects the city to initiate dialogue with the public, including legislators and the LDS Church. This effort would be made to overcome potential pushback over the public accommodation ordinance, which he hopes will be a model for a statewide law.
“I don’t expect to see a lash out from the legislature,” he said. “I don’t expect that at all. I think we’re all aware of how things are trending in the United States in particular.”
North Carolina passed a statewide law that would force transgender people to use the bathroom assigned to their biological sex. The backlash has been fairly substantial, however. The National Basketball Association responded by relocating its All-Star Game, originally scheduled to take place in Charlotte, to another state. Other organizations have also pulled ballgames or conventions.
Equality Utah’s Executive Director Troy Williams says while progress in regards to the local LGBTQ community is praiseworthy, residents should not gloss over the state’s “staggering losses” in the form of LGBTQ suicides.