- Associated Press - Wednesday, March 5, 2014

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) - Protesters pushing for Utah to adopt a statewide anti-discrimination law protecting sexual and gender orientation returned to the state Capitol on Wednesday afternoon to call out lawmakers for suppressing the bill.

The group held a news conference and rally for about 200 people at the Capitol three weeks after they were arrested there for blocking entrances to committee rooms.

“You participated in your democracy. You did everything right. And what did you get for it?” organizer Troy Williams asked the crowd. They responded with “Nothing!”

Republican leaders at the Legislature have called for a moratorium this year on any issues they fear could affect the state’s pending legal challenge over its same-sex marriage ban.

St. George Republican Sen. Steve Urquhart, who is sponsoring the proposal, says it has nothing to do with same-sex marriage. The bill would bar discrimination based on gender identity or sexual orientation in housing and employment.

The 13 protesters were peacefully arrested Feb. 10 when they locked arms and blocked the entrances to two Senate committee meeting rooms.

The group appeared in court in late February but charges had not yet been filed.

The Utah Highway Patrol, which provides Capitol security, has forwarded all the case to the Salt Lake City prosecutor’s office, Sgt. Todd Royce said.

Salt Lake City spokesman Art Raymond said the case is under review and being screened by the prosecutor’s office.

Williams said members of the group intend to plead not guilty if charges are filed.

Urquhart hosted a meeting last week with more than 20 legislators and state officials to hear gay and transgender people share their personal stories of discrimination.

Legislators, including Senate President Wayne Niederhauser, R-Sandy, said they appreciated the discussion, but it did not appear to shift their stance on considering the proposal this year.

Debates over gay rights have played a major role in Utah since December, when a federal judge overturned the state’s voter-approved ban on same-sex marriage.

More than 1,000 gay couples rushed to wed before the U.S. Supreme Court granted Utah’s request for an emergency stay in early January.

The case is pending before a federal appeals court.

Because a decision is not expected until spring or beyond, Republican leaders at the Legislature have decided to quash any bills this year that they fear could affect the case.

Despite Urquhart’s arguments that his bill has nothing to do with same-sex marriage, the anti-discrimination ban has been netted in that moratorium.

The bill, which has appeared before the Legislature about half a dozen times, has traditionally been a Democratic proposal.

With Urquhart’s backing, last year was the first time a Republican sponsored the measure. It moved further than ever before, winning approval from a Senate committee, before it died.

Urquhart has vowed to run the bill every year until lawmakers pass it.

The demonstrators made a similar vow Wednesday.

“We are going to fight and work until every LGBT Utahan can live and work in this state without discrimination,” Williams said.

Gail Turpin, a 61-year-old from Cottonwood Heights who calls herself a “proud, straight ally,” also spoke to the crowd

“Second-class citizenship will never be enough for them and for me because there is no compelling reason for this to continue,” said Turpin, who was one of those arrested at the earlier demonstration. “This is not a religious issue. It is a civil rights issue.”

Owen Smith, a 31-year-old from Salt Lake City, described his experiences as a transgender person facing discrimination.

Smith, who works for Equality Utah, said he trained to be a paramedic but was unable to find a job and later unable to get an apartment because employers and landlords felt he was “just too much.”

“If we introduce ourselves and our loved ones as people, not problems to be solved,” Smith said, “We can truly change hearts and minds and create refuge for every person who lives and visits in our great state.”

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Online:

SB 100: http://1.usa.gov/1nU9BEl

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