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Salt Lake City seeks input on gay-resident protections

A vote on a pair of nondiscrimination ordinances that would provide housing and employment protections for gay and lesbian Salt Lake residents could come this month.

The public can comment Tuesday during a Salt Lake City Council hearing on the ordinances, believed to be the first of their kind in Utah. The ordinances would make it illegal to fire or evict someone because of their sexuality.

"For the capital city to take this step is huge," said Will Carlson, public-policy director for the gay and lesbian advocacy group Equality Utah. "It would send a message, not only to residents, but across the country."

The ordinances would establish a process within the city for tenants and employees to file discrimination complaints based on sexual orientation.

Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Utahns are not protected by state laws.

The ordinances call for written complaints and rebuttals to be filed with the city and reviewed by an administrator. If the complaint were found valid, the two parties would meet in an attempt to resolve the issue outside of court.

If no agreement could be reached, the complaint would be forwarded to the city attorney for possible civil action.

The proposed ordinance calls for fines of $500 for smaller companies and up to $1,000 for larger organizations.

City officials said they believe the ordinances safeguard employers and landlords against false complaints.

Jennifer Mayer-Glenn, the chairwoman of the city's Human Rights Commission, said the ordinances are much needed by Salt Lake City's gay and lesbian residents.

"We have evidence that shows they are being discriminated against," she said.

Earlier this year, the commission released a survey highlighting more than 300 cases of discrimination in the Salt Lake area.

Mayer-Glenn said there are changes she would like to see made to the ordinance, namely an exemption for businesses with fewer than 15 employees.

"In an ideal world," the law would apply to all businesses, she said, noting there is a "political climate" surrounding the ordinances that requires compromise.

The proposed ordinances have already earned attention from state lawmakers.

Sen. Chris Buttars, R-West Jordan, earlier this year said he might consider carrying legislation that would prevent the capital city from enacting the law.

Carlson, however, said he is not worried about "a few anti-gay extremists" and is "confident" most legislators would not interfere with municipal dealings.

Tuesday's public hearing will be held in the Salt Lake City-County Building, 451 S. State. The meeting starts at 7 p.m.

e-mail: afalk@desnews.com