ST. GEORGE – While the St. George City Council chambers were packed with people gathered to protest the city’s perceived anti-dance policies Thursday, others, many dressed in red, were there to support an effort to encourage the council to consider creating a nondiscrimination ordinance that would extend housing and employment protections to the city’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.
Addressing the City Council regarding the adoption of a nondiscrimination ordinance was St. George resident Matthew Jacobson, who had originally sent a letter to the mayor and City Council about the issue in September.
“I am a St. Georgian. I am also a gay man,” Jacobson said as he began addressing the council. “Despite my work ethic … and my ability to do a job well, I still have that fear that at any moment I could lose my job and the ability to provide for my family just because of who I am.”
Why does Jacobson have that fear? Because it’s already happened to him, he said. In 2002, Jacobson said he worked as a makeup artist for a retailer in town. He loved his job and took pride in his work, he said. However, the management eventually learned about his sexual orientation and, soon after he was let go from the job, he said.
“It was probably the most humiliating thing I’ve been through,” Jacobson said.
Citing statistics, Jacobson said between four and five people a month are fired in Utah because of their sexual orientation. Transgender individuals have it worse, he said, as 67 percent of them are fired because of who they choose to be.
“I believe every resident of St. George should have the freedom to work, live and love without fear of being fired or evicted simply because of who they are,” Jacobson said.
As Jacobson was about to conclude his words to the City Council, he said, “We believe we deserve to be judged on what we do, how we perform, and not just by who we happen to love.”
Jacobson’s statement was given during a public comment period allotted to St. George residents during the first council meeting of each month. As such, it wasn’t an official format in which the council would discuss and vote on a matter. Council members were given copies of the proposed ordinance to review.
The ordinance Jacobson proposes is based on the nondiscrimination ordinance adopted in Salt Lake City in 2009. That ordinance was supported by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and church officials called it “fair and reasonable.”
Not everyone at the council meeting liked the idea of the city pursuing a nondiscrimination ordinance. Patricia Kent, 63, of St. George, addressed the City Council after Jacobson and expressed her opposition.
“What I have found in the past and seen in the past is that, without fail, every anti-discrimination ordinance that has been passed has been discriminatory,” Kent said.
Using laws against racial discrimination as an example, Kent said such laws discriminated against business and property owners by telling them whom they should hire or rent property to.
“Bottom line,” she said, “there is no anti-discrimination law that’s not going to discriminate against someone.”
As to laws meant to protect the LGBT community, Kent said, “What I have seen with anti-discrimination laws against gender (identity) is that they want to push their ideologies on the rest of us.”
Kent also said the Constitution gives her the right to life, liberty and property, and that government has no right to dictate that she be required to allow someone on her property simply because of their gender identity or racial background.
“The Constitution protects those of all races, all genders, and gives us all the same rights,” Kent said. “Those people who have been fired or experienced those things because of their gender-orientation have a recourse … The laws of the land give them that recourse.”
A nondiscrimination law wouldn’t provide equal rights, she said; it would simply give more rights to the LGBT community.
“Well, I think at the end of the day we all agree that there’s also one law above all and that is to love your neighbor, and that’s perhaps where we all should start,” Councilman Gil Almquist said.
If St. George did adopt a nondiscrimination ordinance, it would be the second city in Washington County to do so and the 17th city in the state. Springdale adopted a nondiscrimination ordinance in 2012. Other cities that have nondiscrimination ordinances include Salt Lake City, South Salt Lake, Park City, Taylorsville, West Valley City, Marriott-Slaterville, Murray, Midvale, Moab, Ogden, Alta, Logan, Harrisville, Perry City and Washington Terrace.
Countywide nondiscrimination ordinances also exist in Salt Lake, Summit and Grand counties.
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