- Associated Press - Monday, January 23, 2017

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) - About 6,000 women, men and children, many wearing pink hats, carrying signs and chanting “Women of Utah unite,” poured in to the Utah State Capitol as lawmakers started their 2017 session Monday afternoon.

The demonstrators hiked a steep hill in heavy snow and wind before packing into the Capitol, filling its three main floors, hallways and staircases amid speeches and chants from activists and a few Democratic lawmakers.

The Salt Lake City rally came on the heels of similar massive protests around the country, organized by women dismayed at President Donald Trump’s election.

Utah protesters said they wanted to hold their rally Monday so members of the state’s GOP-dominated Legislature could hear and see them.

Protester Rebekka Hamatake, 38, said she and her husband were marching with their four young children, including a nine-month-old son, to show them that they could fight against inequality and push back against Trump’s rhetoric, which she described as “hateful.”

“If we keep ignoring it, it’s going to become OK,” she said. “And it’s not OK.”

Organizer Kathryn Jones-Porter said the group is concerned about “anti-woman” legislation to restrict abortion rights and wants to promote policies like closing the pay gap between men and women and ensuring testing of all rape kits collected by police.

Sgt. Todd Royce with the Utah Highway Patrol, which provides security for the Capitol, estimated about 6,000 people attended the protest and rally.

The protesters gathered in the three-story atrium, just outside the area where lawmakers were meeting for their first-day speeches and initial business. Inside the House and Senate chambers, the protester’s loud chants and cheers made it difficult to hear at times.

One of the speakers was Kate Kelly, who works for the Planned Parenthood Association of Utah and excommunicated the Mormon church in 2014 for staging demonstrations in a push for women to be allowed to join the faith’s lay clergy.

Kelly decried how few of Utah’s legislators are female - less than 20 percent - and said she’s tired of men making decisions about women’s bodies.

The event attracted a scattering of Trump supporters, including Kern Huerta of West Valley, who yelled, “You think you can just walk up on this capitol without any opposition?”

He was holding a Trump campaign sign, which a female protester pulled from his hands, tearing it to pieces and throwing it at him before she disappeared into the crowd.

Protester Linda Metke, 74, said this is the first march she’s participated in since the 1960’s, and that she came out to fight for women’s reproductive rights, including access to birth control and abortions. “It can’t be made criminal,” she said.

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Associated Press writer Michelle L. Price contributed to this report.

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