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Summit Pride learns how building relationships can help prevent anti-LGBTQ+ legislation in Utah

FILE - Bonneville Elementary School parents and students gather during a block party supporting trans and non binary students and staff on April 29, 2024, in Salt Lake City. Transgender activists have flooded a Utah tip line created to alert state officials to possible violations of a new bathroom law with thousands of hoax reports in an effort to shield trans residents and their allies from any legitimate complaints that could threaten their safety. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer, File)
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AP
FILE - Bonneville Elementary School parents and students gather during a block party supporting trans and non binary students and staff on April 29, 2024, in Salt Lake City. Transgender activists have flooded a Utah tip line created to alert state officials to possible violations of a new bathroom law with thousands of hoax reports in an effort to shield trans residents and their allies from any legitimate complaints that could threaten their safety.

Summit Pride invited Equality Utah to Park City on June 11 to discuss how working with lawmakers can help prevent anti-LGBTQ+ legislation.

Equality Utah Executive Director Troy Williams gave Summit Pride members a primer on the evolution of LGBTQ+ legislation in Utah and efforts to create change. He said state legislators have passed a lot of bills supporting the community in the last 10 years.

“Utah is this bizarre state, and really the only red state in the country that has consistently passed pro-LGBT bills,” Williams said.

In 2013, Utah was among the first red states to have its ban on same-sex marriage overturned by a judge. More ore followed soon after, Williams said, some through court rulings and others via legislative action.

In 2015, Utah was the first Republican state to pass a nondiscrimination law protecting gay and transgender people from being fired or evicted solely because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. And Equality Utah worked with lawmakers in 2017 to overturn Utah’s “Don’t Say Gay” law which limited discussions of homosexuality in schools.

In 2019, after decades of effort, Williams said Utah passed an LGBTQ and race-inclusive hate crimes law. State legislators also unanimously passed a bill banning conversion therapy in 2023.

Despite those positive steps, Williams said progress often coincides with backlash and there was plenty of it after the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

“All across the country, there was just this coordinated assault legislatively, on transgender youth,” he said. “It was a really easy target for a lot of people because most people knew gay people. Everyone’s got a gay aunt, uncle or whatever, but people were not as familiar with the transgender experience.”

Williams said unfamiliarity with transgender people led to widespread hysteria and moral panic. For example, in 2021 Utah lawmakers banned transgender youth from participating in girls' sports, even though only one trans student was affected by the ban.

Utah passed more anti-trans legislation during the 2024 session. The most controversial was the so-called bathroom bill, which prohibits transgender people from using bathrooms and locker rooms aligning with their gender identity in government-funded institutions like public schools. Williams said his team couldn’t kill the bill, but they did “defang” it by negotiating with lawmakers.

“We don't like this bill at all, but it's a lot better than the original version of it, which would have had criminal penalties for transgender people using the bathroom,” Williams said.

Although the bill no longer has enforcement provisions, he said the narrative still negatively impacts the trans community and in general leaves more people feeling unsafe in bathrooms.

Williams said the best way to prevent anti-LGBTQ+ legislation is to form relationships with lawmakers and to have conversations with people not intending to win an argument but to listen to where people are coming from.

“What we found by doing this is that when we become curious about them, their defenses drop, and then they become curious about us, and then you can have a real conversation,” Williams said.

He encouraged Summit Pride, formerly the Park City LGBTQ+ Task Force, to participate in events unrelated to the LGTBQ+ community to form relationships with people who might not know much about the community.

Equality Utah will continue working with legislators this fall to block or soften anti-LGBTQ+ legislation before the 2025 session. Williams expects a bill meant to ban flags endorsing or disparaging political viewpoints, like the Pride, Black Lives Matter and Make America Great Again flags, to show up again next year. He said his team is also monitoring legislation from Florida, where many anti-trans bill originate, get beta tested and then moved toward Utah.