Fair housing was the topic of Debra Daniels' first high school debate speech.

With the release of a report Tuesday detailing incidents of discrimination in Salt Lake City, Daniels is still talking about the need for equality some 35 years later.

"I am surprised today, in 2009, that we are still asking that our citizens be allowed to move into a neighborhood, to … access employment and health care … and they're being denied based on who they are," Daniels said on the steps of the Salt Lake City-County Building.

The report by the Salt Lake City Human Rights Commission found discrimination based on race, faith, class and sexual orientation happens often in the city.

Along with releasing the report, Mayor Ralph Becker announced plans for a nondiscrimination ordinance in the capital city. The ordinance would mean fair housing and workplace protections for the city's gay and lesbian community, a group currently not protected by state or federal laws, said Salt Lake City attorney Ed Rutan.

"I am committed to eradicating discrimination in our city," Becker said. The mayor hopes to bring the proposal to the City Council sometime in September.

The legislation is one of four recommendations made in the report, which also calls for cooperation with international human rights projects; increased funding for local diversity and human-rights programs; and the creation of a system for collecting and addressing discrimination claims.

Daniels called the proposed ordinance "a courageous move."

"I look forward to a time when we can have our citizens walk into a room and express themselves without fear of retaliation, harm and discrimination," she said. "And they will be able to tell their own story. It is hard to hate someone whose story you know."

30 comments on this story

The stories of discrimination found in the commission's 2009 report included a hearing-impaired man who went to a movie theater that had no accommodations for him; a family whose landlord would not fix their stove for three months because the family did not speak English; a man who was evicted from his rental home because he was gay.

In addition to harming individuals, discrimination hurts the city in the form of decreased tourism dollars and an increase in graffiti, according to the report. And incidences of discrimination would likely increase as the city grows more diverse.

"We must decide whether to remain status quo and continue to tolerate discrimination within our vibrant community or make equality a top priority," said Commission Chairwoman Jennifer Mayer-Glenn.

e-mail: afalk@desnews.com