Protesters demand LGBT anti-discrimination bill be heard

Published: Monday, Feb. 10 2014 11:20 a.m. MST

Michelle Turpin talks with Sen. Stephen Urquhart, R-St. George, and Utah Senate Chief of Staff Rick Cantrell listens as a group of people gathered outside the governor's office and barricaded themselves inside the state Capitol on Monday, Feb. 10, 2014. The protesters want the Utah Senate to hear SB100, an LGBT antidiscrimination bill.

Matt Gade, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — More than a dozen gay rights protesters seeking a hearing for an anti-discrimination bill were handcuffed and taken into custody by Utah Highway Patrol troopers Monday for blocking access to a legislative committee hearing.

Before the troopers took action shortly after 2 p.m., the protesters were told they were committing a potential felony and a class B misdemeanor by interfering with the hearing scheduled in the Senate Building on the Capitol grounds.

"We're just trying to do the business of the Legislature. We can't prevent that. We have responsiblity to the people to make sure we're doing its business," said Sen. Stuart Reid, R-Ogden, who was trying to get into the Senate Education Committee hearing.

"Liberty and justice for all," the organizer of the protest, Troy Williams, an activist for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights, called out to reporters as he was led away in plastic handcuffs.

The 13 protesters were arrested for investigation of disorderly conduct, a class B misdemeanor, and taken to the Salt Lake County Jail for booking, said Dwayne Baird, Utah Department of Public Safety spokesman.

The protesters gathered outside the committee room in the hopes of seeing Senate President Wayne Niederhauser, R-Sandy, to seek a hearing for SB100, a bill barring housing and employment discrimination against the LGBT community.

Niederhauser did not attend the committee meeting, although others did, including several people who had come to testify and were frustrated the doors were blocked.

"They're denying my right to go in a committee meeting," said Alexandra Eframo. "I don't care what they stand for or whatever. I hope they put them in jail for 100 days. … With this exhibition, I am so against it. Discriminate all you want."

The protesters arrived at the Capitol about 9:30 a.m. and locked arms in front of the doors to the governor's office for about four hours, despite being asked to leave by troopers, closing the governor's reception area to tours.

Several troopers who provide security at the Capitol kept protesters from completely blocking the door but did not immediately make any arrests. One trooper stood by with plastic zip-tie handcuffs.

Williams said the protesters were prepared to block the door, which the governor's office locked from the inside, until they got an "absolute commitment" that the bill would be heard or they were arrested.

“We are just so frustrated,” he said.

Troopers escorted Williams and Michael Westley away from the door to talk with them before letting them return. They both repeatedly asked the officers if they intended to arrest them.

"Your job is not to block that door," trooper Travis Trotta told Westley.

"My job is to get this bill heard," Westley replied.

The governor's communications director, Marty Carpenter, suggested the protesters may be in the wrong place.

“We appreciate citizens voicing their opinion on legislation. Because SB100 remains in the Senate, we encourage those concerned with the status of the bill to contact their legislators,” Carpenter said in a statement.

Senate Republicans have taken a position against hearing the bill because they say it could hurt Utah's appeal in the gay marriage case with the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals.

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