Human Rights Campaign Utah holds annual gala in Salt Lake City

Published: Tuesday, May 11 2010 12:32 a.m. MDT

SALT LAKE CITY — Under the crystal chandeliers and molded ceilings of the Grand America hotel, an eclectic crowd mingled at the Sixth Annual Human Rights Campaign Gala. Drag queens in tall, yellow wigs wandered among state senators and congressmen and various members and supporters of the LGBT community.

HRC Utah has worked for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights at city, state and national levels. Saturday night's fundraising gala also celebrated the recent passage of housing and employment protections for gays and lesbians in Salt Lake City and Salt Lake County.

Peter Corroon, the democratic nominee for Utah governor and Salt Lake County's mayor, was in attendance to support HRC and accept an award for his support and the county's efforts in passing legislation that protects the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.

"I supported the law," Corroon said. "I believe everyone should be able to live and work in a community without discrimination."

In November, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints came out in support of Salt Lake City's nondiscrimination ordinances. The announcement of the church's position brought about greater support in the state for the ordinances.

HRC Utah Steering Committee member Jessica Bair plans to lobby Utah representatives in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday for Veterans Lobby Day. Hundreds of former U.S. soldiers will ask Congress to repeal the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy. Bair, an intersex lesbian raised as a male but who identifies as a female, will also marry her life partner, JA Steel.

Bair served an LDS Church mission in the early 1990s. She said she remains active in the faith and raises her children in the church, which teaches that marriage is between a man and a woman. She and her partner feel accepted by their congregation and bishop.

"I grew up LDS," Bair said. "I believe in the mission. The struggle to be yourself is difficult, but I still believe."

Laws like the one supported by the church and passed in Salt Lake City and Salt Lake County prevent a landlord from denying housing or an employer from firing someone based on sexual preferences and orientation.

John Bennett, the political co-chairman of Utah Steering Committee for HRC and nephew of U.S. Sen. Bob Bennett, rushed from the Republican Convention to the HRC Gala in the wake of the news that his uncle lost the Senate seat. Bennett is skeptical another Republican senator will be as receptive to HRC as his uncle.

"(Bob) Bennett's been very gracious all along," the senator's nephew said. "He's met with us in person when we go to lobby him. Not all congressional delegations have been willing to do that, to take the time to sit down with us in their offices."

Still, Bob Bennett won't leave office until January 2011, which means he is expected to have the opportunity to vote on "don't ask, don't tell" and the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.

Republican leadership in the Utah Legislature refused this year to consider statewide protection for gay housing or workplace rights.

e-mail: gbarker@desnews.com

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