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CALIFORNIANS BLAME CONVENTION BOYCOTT ON UTAH ERA RECORD

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Californians boycotting an upcoming national convention in Park City said Friday they based their decision on Utah's fight against the Equal Rights Amendment 10 years ago, its perceived stand against abortion rights and a feeling that the state perpetuates the idea that women are second-class citizens.

Officials with the Los Angeles Unified School District also said they had been contacted by actress Beverly Todd and Hollywood producer Kris Keiser, who supported their decision. The group is boycotting the National Coalition for Sex Equity in Education (NCSEE) conference scheduled for July 16-20.Todd and Keiser generated a great deal of publicity when their son, Malik Smith, died March 20, two days after John Tavo Leota punched him in the face and kicked him in the head at Club 35, a West Valley disco for teenagers. They were angered because they believed the assailant received a light sentence.

"Beverly Todd said she wanted to thank the commission for its stand. She said she had been fighting a one-woman war against the Legislature to change the laws of Utah," said June Burlingame Smith, chairwoman of the district's Sex Equity Commission.

Francine Giani, Gov. Norm Bangerter's press secretary, said, "It's unfortunate. It's true Utah is a pro-life state, and we haven't hidden our feelings about abortion, and we don't apologize for being pro-life.

"Bigotry has its basis in ignorance, and there's no better evidence of that than by their boycotting of a conference in Utah. We ask people to give us a chance. Utah is a great place. If they're basing their boycott of the conference strictly on abortion stands, then that's just something they have to decide, but we don't hide our feeling about being pro-life."

Smith said the resignation of former commission Chairwoman Augusta Sanders, who is black, also influenced the 27-member delegation to boycott the conference.

The commission's decision was sent in a letter to NCSEE officials.

"American women are from many cultural backgrounds; racism is a very important concern to women; the elimination of sexism can never occur in any country that is still fraught with racism and other forms of discrimination: as a sex equity commission, representing a district with a majority of children of color, we cannot participate, in good conscience, in a conference taking place in a state which still condones and practices discrimination," the letter says.

Smith said the commission also considered sending two commissioners to the conference, but when Sanders resigned, the delegation decided not to attend.

In a telephone interview with the Deseret News, Sanders said she boycotted the conference because of her experience in Utah in 1957 when she was denied entrance into the LDS Church Tabernacle and several restaurants and public places.

Giani, however, said, "Her experience 33 years ago is unfortunate, but a lot of things have changed in Utah since that time."

"Maybe I'm sensitive because of my personal experience in Utah when I was blatantly discriminated against because of my ethnicity," Sanders' letter of resignation to the commission said.

Smith, however, said several commission members regret not attending the conference.

"We're not doing this to start a movement against the state of Utah, and this is not an attack on the Mormon Church."

The Los Angeles district also boycotted a conference in Arizona recently to protest then-Gov. Evan Mecham's opposition to making Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday a holiday.