Monday, June 29, 2009

Inform. Invite. Include

Guest Blogger, Isaac Higham discusses the importance of youth involvement in the LGBT Equality Movement.

The LGBTA community in Utah, while not gaudy or overly intimidating in number is nonetheless impressive in the quality and character of the members of its community. From the fledgling gay-straight alliances at an increasing number of high schools, colleges, and universities to the heart of the community in Salt Lake City, one doesn’t have to search for long to find some of the most dedicated, motivated, kind, and sincere human beings around.

Some of my favorite people I have had the pleasure of meeting have been some of our straight allies. Some have a LGBT family member or friend. Others have had their lives touched by someone in our community. And some are allies simply because they disagree with the unequal treatment of people they may not even know or understand. Regardless of their stories or motives, their support is very valued and much appreciated.

We have made many positive strides in Utah from increasing the number of fair-minded candidates elected, to various municipalities deciding to support their GLBT employees. Equality Utah through its Common Ground Initiative is making progress in pushing for even more positive changes. The movement towards “A fair and just Utah” will push forward only with the continued efforts of us all along with adding more voices, gay and straight, to the cause. And here we come to an area where we have had success but, to steal a phrase from my upbringing, we need to raise the bar.

We each have softened and changed countless hearts and minds simply by continuing to live our lives in the respectable manner in which we always have lived, but I think that sometimes we lose sight of the incredible opportunity we have to actively work to increase awareness, especially when it comes to the younger generation; my generation.

This is not to say that we should not continue to vigorously try and influence elected officials and those in power or seek out allies of all ages, but as President Obama showed during his campaign, the younger demographic can be mobilized into a powerful supporting voice for a cause. I cannot begin to count the number of friends and acquaintances that have asked me around campus, or over a text message or facebook conversation, “What can I do?”

Even here in Utah, support for equality is strong among the youth. The problem is unearthing those sentiments that lie buried in the hearts of young people who simply don’t know. They don’t know you can be fired or evicted in Utah for being gay or transgender. They don’t know of the struggles couples have trying to take care of each other and their children. They simply don’t know.

I am reminded of a poem by Nixon Waterman that perfectly underscores the sentiment behind the effort for education on LGBT issues:

If I knew you and you knew me,
If both of us could clearly see,

And with an inner sight divine,

The meaning of your heart and mine,

I'm sure that we would differ less,

And clasp our hands in friendliness;

Our thoughts would pleasantly agree,

If I knew you and you knew me.

And once they know, most are immediately willing and committed to lend a hand and add their voice. The onus then falls on us to do the educating. Whether it’s supporting a youth GSA in its efforts to reach out to their fellow students, using blogs and social networks to inform and invite participation, or simply being more willing to include the younger generation. We each can do something a little better to involve and work with the youth.

The generation that will lead the world tomorrow can be invaluable in changing the world today if we only inform, invite, and include them.

Isaac is is a fantastic Equality Utah volunteer and a student at Utah State University, studying political science.

Friday, June 26, 2009

What's Right with Utah

Utah has an interesting political reputation, but Lisa Duggan has shown in her article "What's Right with Utah" that the Common Ground Initiative is real deal.

What's Right with Utah
By Lisa Duggan

"Forget everything you think you know about Utah. Yes, it's the reddest state in the union and the headquarters of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS). For the past twenty-five years, Republicans have had a virtual lock on statewide offices. Utah hasn't voted for a Democrat for president since 1964, and last year the state chose John McCain over Barack Obama by almost a 2-to-1 margin

But here in Salt Lake City, it's a different story. The city and surrounding counties are a lovely blue. The current and previous mayors--Ralph Becker and Rocky Anderson--are well-known progressive Democrats with excellent records on the environment, gay and civil rights, disability access and other municipal issues, and Salt Lake County, home to four of the five most populous cities in the state, went for Obama in 2008.

Then there's Salt Lake City's queer community, whose smart, creative and coalition-building strategies could provide a model for gay activists across the country". Read More

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

ENDA introduced in the US House of Representatives!

As many of you know one of our Common Ground Initiative issues is a Fair Workplace. Right now it is legal in Utah for people to be fired from their jobs just because they’re gay or transgender. All Utahns should have the chance to provide for their families without fear of being unjustly fired for reasons that have nothing to do with ability to work.

Today Rep. Barney Frank D (MA-4), introduced the Federal Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), which would ban employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity and expression.

The National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR) as well as the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) have both issued action alerts on this issue.

Visit their websites to find out how to contact your US Representative!

Friday, June 19, 2009

Federal Benefits are a Start

Some of you may have heard about President Obama extending some partner benefits to Federal Employees. Under this plan, Federal Employees can include their partners on their long-term care insurance and also take sick leave to care for their partners.

This plan is a step in the right direction; however it does not allow employees to share health insurance or retirement benefits. Below are a few articles about the plan and how it might affect some Utahns.

Utah's Gay Community: Federal Benefits are a Start
Salt Lake Tribune
June 18

Obama: More Benefits for Gay Workers Only One Step
Associated Press/KSL
June 18