Twenty-five years ago, before she was Salt Lake City’s first openly gay mayor, Jackie Biskupski tuned into a television news update and was dismayed by what she saw: students from East High were being harassed by their peers, teachers and parents because they wanted to start Utah’s first Gay-Straight Alliance.
“The courage of the East High students altered the course of my life,” Biskupski told a packed East High cafeteria Thursday night. “While those students set out to create a safe space for themselves and their friends, what they accomplished was nothing less than a cultural shift in the state of Utah.”
That inspiring fight, Biskupski said at the beginning of her fourth State of the City speech, has influenced her ever since. “Throughout my career in public service, I have never forgotten the impact and bravery of those students, nor my commitment to use my voice to build a stronger and more equitable community for all people.”
Biskupski, who will face a crowded and competitive field should she run for reelection this year, peppered her address with stories of city residents who have benefitted from her administration’s programs. She relayed anecdotes about a man transitioning out of homelessness, a couple that purchased a home with a low-interest loan and a business owner who will soon offer job training programs to homeless women.
“Often, when we discuss housing, it can feel like a complicated math equation,” Biskupski said, ticking off tax credit figures and esoteric acronyms. “While our housing experts can make even the most complicated deal balance, they have never lost sight of the human face of this issue.”
Another crucial means of improving Salt Lake City residents’ lives, Biskupski suggested, is minimizing air pollution and giving locals more options for getting around. “We know half of the toxic pollution in the air is from our cars,” Biskupski said before outlining the upcoming improvements to the city’s public transportation. “Commuters on three key lines along 2nd South, 21st South, and right here at 9th South will see extended hours, more frequent service, and at long last, Sunday service.”
The mayor credited alternative means of transit like Bird and Lime for giving residents another green form of transportation. The city is working on an app that will list available public and private transit options, she said, so users will be able to pay for their preferred service and be on their way.
“By creating transportation options for individuals to get out of their cars, we can create a little more breathing room for residents, both in terms of air quality, and available income,” Biskupski said.
Thanks to voter- and City Council-approved funding streams for transportation and street upgrades, the metropolis will soon be a friendlier place for residents who use wheels to travel from Points A to B. Federal lawmakers have long opined on the importance of upgrading the country’s infrastructure, Biskupski said, but to no avail. “While others talk,” she said, “Salt Lake City is putting shovels in the ground, laying pipes for future generations, and rebuilding our roads so they will work for everyone.”
Biskupski ended her speech by praising residents and city officials for joining hands and working to improve their home. “Together, we are building a city for everyone,” she said before repurposing a phrase she’s used in years’ past. “And together, we are ensuring that the State of this great city is strong.”