Panel debates discrimination against LGBT workers

By By Clayton Norlen

By Clayton Norlen

Although conservatives in the Utah State Legislature argue that current laws already protect against discrimination in the workplace, liberals claim that the law should specifically outlaw discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

The U Debate Team and the department of communication hosted a parliamentary debate and panel discussion to debate whether Utah should create laws prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation.

Panel guests included Sen. Chris Buttars, R-West Jordan; Rep. Christine Johnson, D-Salt Lake City; Gayle Ruzicka, of the Utah Eagle Forum; and Will Carlson, who manages policy issues for Equality Utah. The panelists responded to arguments made by students and debated about hypothetical legislation to change the law.

“There is still (discrimination) despite the fact we have (a) constitutional guarantee of equal protections,” said Johnson, who identifies as a lesbian. “When society fails to regulate its behavior in a corrected and constructive manner, it falls on the government to create the conditions necessary to end the abuses. In the 2008 general legislative session, employment anti-discrimination amendments represent such necessary corrections.”

However, others argue that the law already protects employees from discrimination.

“To answer the question proposed here tonight — no, we should not pass this,” Ruzicka said. “All people already enjoy equality in the law and in the workplace. Gay and lesbian people are single, and as single people, they receive equally the same benefits of all single people and that is the way it should be.”

Opponents against more specific discrimination laws argued that the change could lead to further legal battles over workplace discrimination, discourage new businesses from coming to the state and go against Utah’s moral values.

Carlson argued that anti-discrimination laws are in keeping with the state’s values, saying the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints encourages its members to be accepting of all people and not to reject others because of their sexuality.

He countered arguments that the change could discourage businesses from coming to Utah with statistics showing that the gay community has historically had the highest spending power and that by passing this legislation, Utah would become a magnet for gay-friendly businesses and employees.

“Employees and applicants have a right to be judged based on what counts. Education, experience, job performance, sexual orientation and gender identity all count until Utah legislature changes the law,” Carlson said. “We need to make this change so that it is clear that the workplace is for work, and sexual orientation and gender identity, regardless of what you think about it, is irrelevant as to if you can do a job.”

Ruzicka said the legislation could cause reverse discrimination against the religious. She questioned whether someone who reads their Bible at work and voices the opinion that homosexuality is morally wrong would be fired. She said the people of Utah have already spoken and sided with morality when they voted for an amendment to the Utah Constitution banning gay marriage.

“Nobody should be discriminated against, but this idea means we should go out and do something that has never been done in America and provide special protections to sub-groups,” Buttars said. “This won’t stop — everybody will come forward looking for protection. ‘Hey, I got tattoos all over my body and I couldn’t get the job, so I should be protected.’ And if anyone here thinks it won’t, it will happen — it will.”

Buttars said that because being gay is a choice, like getting a tattoo, the gay community didn’t qualify for protection under the law. The passage of this legislation would be like rewriting the Ten Commandments to say that morality no longer exists and that there is no wrong.

In theory, it should be enough to say that all men are created equal, Johnson said, telling the crowd to look at the history of discrimination in the United States. It has taken governmental action to end slavery, segregation and to allow women and colored peoples the right to vote, she said, adding that it will take government action to end the emotional and physical abuse that the gay community still faces today.

“This legislation does not create a protected class Senator Buttars talks about. Everyone in this room has a sexual orientation, everyone in this room has a gender identity, just as everyone in this room has a race and a sex,” Carlson said. “Now any one of us can be discriminated against for one of those things. Two of them are legal, and the other two are illegal to discriminate against.”

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Teresa Getten

Nina Hall and Danielle Hughes debate against passing workplace discrimination legislation. The University of Utah Debate Team and the Department of Communication hosted the debate Thursday in the OSH Auditorium.