SALT LAKE CITY — Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox believes subtle bigotry is harming the nation and prodded Utahns on Wednesday to consider whether they and their elected officials can do better.
"I believe our country is suffering from the soft bigotry of low expectations," Cox said. It's time "for us to expect more from ourselves and more of our fellow human beings," he added, including "our elected leaders and their Twitter accounts.”
The Republican lieutenant governor's comments came as he accepted an award from Catholic Community Services of Utah as its humanitarian of the year. The honor comes a year after he apologized to gay people following the Orlando nightclub shooting that left 49 dead in a speech that spread quickly online and raised his profile.
Addressing Utah's LGBT community at one point during the annual Catholic Community Services fundraising gala in the Little America Hotel, Cox was met with laughter when he said "you have helped me to learn the right letters of the alphabet in the right order, even though you keep adding new ones." In the process, he said, he was shown kindness that "I very often did not deserve, and it made me love you."
Cox is a critic of President Donald Trump and has said he did not vote for him. On Wednesday, he didn't delve very far into politics but joked that Trump's near-constant tweeting has made him less fearful his boss Gov. Gary Herbert will scrutinize Cox's own tweets.
"I can say literally anything I want on Twitter, and it will never be as crazy as anything he says every day," he said.
Cox also has become Utah's "point person" over an effort to curb homelessness and crime in Salt Lake City's Rio Grande neighborhood. He said Wednesday it's fair to expect those living on the on the street to "obey laws and follow rules."
"There is nothing compassionate about allowing crime and chaos to infiltrate our most vulnerable population," Cox said, stressing that drug and mental health treatment, not just jail time, were crucial.
Cox at one point in his speech shouted out House Speaker Greg Hughes, with whom he and other leaders have worked on the Rio Grande plan. Hughes replied from his seat, "That's my boy!"
The Catholic Community Services, for its part, didn't say exactly why it gave Cox the award. Emcee Carole Mikita, a KSL-TV reporter, said he had fostered a "more inclusive environment, helping the most vulnerable in our community feel safe."
The same honor was given to Elizabeth Smart in 2016.
Cox wasn't the only one recognized at this year's gala.
The Salt Lake City Police Department also won "partner of the year" for helping the nonprofit's clients, many of them homeless, as well as staff and volunteers, stay safe in the Rio Grande neighborhood.10 comments on this story
Chief Mike Brown said the Operation Rio Grande effort "is filled with opportunities for a community to regain a quality of life" and for people with substance abuse and mental health issues to get help. Officers at the dinner received a standing ovation.
Other honorees Wednesday included the late Jerry Seiner, the car-dealership founder known for his contributions to the homeless and refugees, and his wife Shari, a child psychologist; as well as Faktory, an advertising agency based in Centerville.