Gay rights activists to fight charges for disrupting Utah Legislature

By Dennis Romboy, Deseret News

Published: Thu, Aug. 28, 2014, 4:40 p.m. MDT

 Danielle Hawkes, center, and Steven Germann, right, link arms during a press conference held by the LGBT rights protesters known as the “Capitol 13” in response to the charges that have been filed against them, Thursday, Aug. 28, 2014.

Danielle Hawkes, center, and Steven Germann, right, link arms during a press conference held by the LGBT rights protesters known as the “Capitol 13” in response to the charges that have been filed against them, Thursday, Aug. 28, 2014.

(Michelle Tessier, Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY — Gay rights activists locked arms on the Capitol steps Thursday demanding to be heard just as they did at a legislative committee meeting earlier this year that ended in their arrests.

The self-described "Capitol 13" were charged with a class B misdemeanors in Salt Lake City Justice Court this week for disrupting the Feb. 10 hearing in the Senate Building. The group wanted lawmakers to discuss an anti-discrimination bill.

"The democratic process was being obstructed to us, so we illustrated that by obstructing the doors," said Troy Williams, the group's leader.

Sen. President Wayne Niederhauser, R-Sandy, said he believes the charges are appropriate. He said he welcomes rallies and protests at the Capitol, but the demonstrators went too far because it kept legislators from conducting business.

"We're not here to throw the book at people," Niederhauser said. "There are ways to be heard besides blocking the way to a committee room."

And although Niederhauser said the group's actions hurt its cause, the 2015 session might be the time to revisit the non-discrimination bill along with religious liberty issues.

"We can't continue to just not debate things," he said.

The 13 men and women are scheduled to appear in court Sept. 26. Williams said they intend to fight the charges because they have a right to peacefully protest and petition the government for change.

The protestors and their lawyers, including prominent defense attorney Ron Yengich, gathered Thursday to again call on lawmakers to consider a statewide law that prohibits discrimination in housing and the workplace based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

Williams said members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community has done everything it can from sending emails to holding protests to get lawmakers' attention.

"No matter how we approach the Legislature, they turn their back on us," he said.

Yengich said legislators don't listen to the LGBT community because they don't like what it has to say.

"If you play only to your base, then you're no better than people who smoke crack because that's what crack is — it's base cocaine. And what does that do to you? It makes you focus on that and that alone to the exclusion of everything else," he said.

An anti-discrimination bill has come up in the Legislature for six straight years, including the last two when Sen. Steve Urquhart, R-St. George, sponsored the measure. His bill cleared a Senate committee in 2013 but was not debated on the floor.

In the 2014 session earlier this year, leaders in the Republican-controlled Senate and House put the bill and religious liberty measures on hold.

"I don't want to get into a war of words with Ron Yengich or the LGBT community," Niederhauser said. "I believe completely that we did the right thing last year."

GOP leaders held the bills because of the emotion surrounding the same-sex marriage litigation, he said.

Now that there's "not so much dust flying" on that issue, Niederhauser said, the upcoming session might be the right time to consider a proposed anti-discrimination law.

A Deseret News/KSL poll in January found that 72 percent of residents say Utah should make it against the law to fire someone from a job solely because they are gay or transgender. It also showed 67 percent favor a law that would make it illegal to deny a person housing solely because they are gay or transgender.

UtahPolicy.com found that 59 percent of Utahns would either strongly or somewhat favor a statewide law banning employment and housing discrimination based on sexual preference in a poll released last week.

Dan Jones & Associates conducted both surveys.

Email: romboy@deseretnews.com

Twitter: dennisromboy

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1. koseighty
The Shire, UT,
Aug. 28, 2014

Wow. The Deseret News running photos of actual people on a gay rights article rather than the standard pair of hands. Are they beginning to realize that real actual American type people are involved here? In any case, well done DN, there is hope for you yet. :o)

2. DN Subscriber
Cottonwood Heights, UT,
Aug. 28, 2014

Disrupting the legislative process is a great way to wind widespread publicity for your cause. However, it also tends to really irritate legislators who must deliberate any changes to our laws.

It seems that many in the LGBT community are really more interested in calling attention to their (outlandish, in my opinion) demands and personal publicity that in explaining any rational arguments in favor of their requests, or rather demands backed by the threats of violence if they are not granted.

Just because a tiny minority of people get a lot of publicity about their demands does not make it right or proper to accede to those demands. If they find a sympathetic judge to give them a win, that may make it legal, but still does not make it right, moral or proper.

I hope that LGBT demonstrators who break the law with their demonstrations are treated the same as any other group of out of control activists, be they animal rights, folks, gun nuts, "underpaid" teachers, or religious zealots protesting liquor laws.

Behave and argue the merits of your desired legislative changes, not showboating anarchists.

3. Meckofahess
Salt Lake City, UT,
Aug. 28, 2014

Yup, this ill thought out protest indeed does hurt the gay cause and makes them look sort of un-civil. Kind of appears like many efforts by the gay community to attempt to force their voice upon everyone else while simultaneously disregarding the concerns of the majority of citizens who oppose many aspects of the gay agenda. Another wake up call that this small minority of citizens does not appear to be sensitive to the feelings, rights, and concerns of others.

4. toosmartforyou
Farmington, UT,
Aug. 28, 2014

If we don't get our way, we will fight and pout, just like children, not adults. Good for them, their real agenda is starting to show and it is nor one of tolerance but one of force.

5. Henry Drummond
San Jose, CA,
Aug. 28, 2014

This whole thing seems quite strange. The State of Utah keeps saying that Amendment 3 is the will of the people. Doesn't refusing to allow a vote on a Gay anti-discrimination bill that has even more popular support defeat that argument?