"and Justice for all" celebrates 20 years

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Last week, “and Justice for all” celebrated their 20 year anniversary at the 2019 Justice Rising Breakfast. 

This year the breakfast had over 600 attendees, and gave Justice Visionary Awards to the Utah Bar Foundation, the Utah State Bar, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, and the George S and Dolores Doré Eccles Foundation.  

 “and Justice for all” was started in 1999 as a collaborative partnership program between Utah’s largest providers of civil legal aid – Utah Legal Services, Disability Law Center, and Legal Aid Society of Salt Lake.  They undertook this collaboration with a mission to increase awareness to civil legal services for the disadvantaged and for individuals with disabilities in Utah. 

The programs “and Justice for all” supports are vital to the success of our community and serve clients like the family who unfairly lost its benefits and is one eviction notice away from being homeless, the person with a disability facing discrimination at work, and the mother caught in a cycle of domestic violence with nowhere else to turn. 

Recently, “and Justice for all” partner the Legal Aid Society of Salt Lake helped a single mother of two, Melissa, secure a protective order against her abusive husband and also negotiated a divorce settlement giving her sole custody of her two children as well as financial support. 

Tami and I were proud to contribute to the acquisition of the "and Justice for all" building 20 years ago, and are happy to be able to continue our support. Having started my legal career at Utah Legal Services in 1976, I know how important it is to offer access to justice for those who otherwise could not afford legal assistance.

If you, or someone you know needs the services of “and Justice for all” please visit andjusticeforall.org to learn more, or get involved in this important work.  

For They Know Not What They Do - World Premier

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Last week, Tami and I had the privilege of attending the world premiere of our friend Daniel Karslake’s new film, For They Know Not What They Do. Premiering at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York City, Dan once again demonstrated that he has a unique gift in making films that have the ability to change minds and hearts.  Dan’s films reach deep into the U.S. conservative religious community and poignantly point out what happens when traditional beliefs encounter actual lives. (See his prior film, For The Bible Tells Me So.)  This new film tells the stories of four families trying to follow their traditional religious teachings while realizing they have a gay or transgender child. 

 We cried, we laughed, we learned as we watched the premiere with some of the families profiled in the film. Along with the tragedies presented by a family that lost their gay son, and a young gay man who lost some of his friends due to anti-gay violence, the film also presents lessons of hope and redemption.  For any family struggling to understand their child’s sexual orientation or gender identity, my hope is that you have the opportunity to watch this film.  It could literally save your child’s life – and maybe your life too.

 This film could not be timelier.  Some churches are experiencing a conservative backlash and making it more difficult for lgbtq people to be accepted.  The current U.S. administration is severely cutting back the rights of transgender people. It is our hope that this film will receive a wide distribution.  Thank you, Daniel Karslake, for once again sharing your insights and your story telling gift with the world. 

For more information on For They Know Not What They Do, please visit  www.fortheyknow.org

For more information about Daniels previous work, visit www.forthebibletellsmeso.org

Voterise 2020 Challenge

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Dedicated to engaging Utah’s 18-29 year-olds, Voterise has created the 2020 Challenge.  The Voterise 2020 Challenge is a 2-year initiative designed to increase voter participation among Utah women.  Not only is 2020 a presidential election, it marks: 

·      The 150th anniversary of the unanimous vote by the Utah Territorial Legislature to grant women the right to vote on February 12, 1870.  Two days later, Utah women became the first to do so in the modern United States.

·      The 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, which began the expansion of voting rights for women throughout the United States

·      The 55th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act, passed in 1965 to prohibit racial discrimination in voting 

The goal of this initiative is to provide 1,000 women and partner organizations with toolkits including voter registration forms, training, and Voterise’s signature “text to register” business cards.  Alongside the toolkit, Voterise is planning a Utah Women’s Registration Day, as well as conduct a Get Out the Vote program. 

Utah, the third fastest-growing state in the nation, is highly diverse with approximately 16% of its population being of Latinx descent as well as significant numbers of Native American, African American, Asian and Pacific Islander citizens. Salt Lake City, on a per capita basis, ranks 2nd in the country for LGBTQ population. Between 1980 and 2016, Utah fell from having the 5th best voter turnout in the country, to the 39th.  Utah has a voting problem, and the Peace and Possibility Project is pleased to support this important work.  For more information on Voterise, or to become an ambassador of the 2020 Challenge, visit their website.  

My Legislative Wrap-Up

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The 2019 Legislative Session came to a close this month, rounding out 45 days, countless issues, hundreds of new laws and pieces of code.  This year I watched several pieces of legislation:  Equality Utah had two incredibly important bills, one banning conversion therapy and the other creating a hate crimes statute.  In addition, I watched three bills supported by the United Way of Slat Lake that increased early childhood education funding and developed more scholarship opportunities.  As with all issues in Utah, some passed and some didn’t.  Here’s my summary on these bills. 

SB 103, Victim Targeting Penalty Enhancements, was sponsored by Sen. Daniel Thatcher, and Rep. Lee Perry.  The passage of this bill has been a long time coming.  The effects of hate crimes are different from the effects of other crimes because hate crimes can terrorize entire communities. In other words, hate crimes are especially frightening because they send a message to an entire group that they’re under threat as well. This bill passed on march 13, and is headed to the Governor’s desk for his signature.

HB 399, Prohibition of the Practice on Conversion Therapy upon Minors, was sponsored by Rep. Craig Hall.  This year Equality Utah worked with the State Legislature to ban conversion therapy.  Passing such a prohibition has been a priority for Equality Utah as a way of combating the state’s high suicide rates.  Unfortunately, this bill was substituted with a bill that will not protect children from conversion therapy, or prevent and LGBTQ youth suicides.  In a surprising turn of events, Governor Gary Herbert pulled his support for the bill after it was substituted.  No bill was passed this session, but I’m sure this issue will not go away as conversion therapy is still happening in Utah.

SB 166, School Readiness Amendments, will align all of the preschool bills that have passed over the years, and provide $12 Million in ongoing funds for school, private and home-based preschool programs that help children start kindergarten ready to learn.  This bill passed and received its full funding request. 

HB 47, Early Childhood Coordination Amendments also passed, which will help improve policy decision-making, alignment, and coordination of programs and services for kids ages zero to six.  Knowing the first five years of a child’s life are the most critical to their long-term success, HB 47 will help highlight where the gaps are, and what changes need to be made to ensure every child has the chance to grow and thrive. 

HB 260, Access to Utah Promise Scholarship, passed providing a huge win for college access.  Education is key to breaking the cycle of poverty and ensuring families are financially stable.  This bill builds a statewide pipeline to college access and completion for students who otherwise would not attend. 

 While there are hundreds of other bills that passed and failed, these 5 were at the top of my list this year.  Huge wins for college access, early childhood education and the LGBTQ community.  There is still a lot of progress we can make, but we have a good start.  

Ending Conversion Therapy in Utah

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Since 2001, Tami and I have supported Equality Utah and its mission of securing equal rights and protections for LGBTQ+ Utahns and their families.  This year, Equality Utah is working to stop the damaging exercise of Conversion Therapy in Utah

For decades, too many LGBTQ+ youth have been subjected to the harmful practice of conversion therapy.  Eleven states and the District of Columbia have already made conversion therapy illegal for state-licensed mental health providers.  Conversion therapy is still being implemented in Utah County and Salt Lake County.  

This year, Equality Utah is working with the Utah Legislature to ban conversion therapy. Passing such a prohibition has been a priority for Equality Utah as a way of combating the state’s suicide rates, which are the fifth highest in the nation.  Utah’s high suicide rate is a crisis that needs attention, and prohibiting conversion therapy is an important step to address this crisis. 

Studies have shown that this practice is ineffective and harmful. As a result, every large medical and mental health association has spoken out against it because there’s no evidence that “conversion therapy” creates any positive health outcomes.

According to the American Psychological Association, "conversion therapy" is dangerous because it can exacerbate distress and depression and cause negative self-image. Also, the Human Rights Campaignnotes that “minors are especially vulnerable, and conversion therapy can lead to depression, anxiety, drug use, homelessness, and suicide.” In fact, in 2015, the White House recommended that conversion therapy be banned for minors.

A study done by the Williams Institute reports that nearly 700,000 LGBTQ+ adults in the United States have undergone this therapy at some point in their lives, about half of those as adolescents.  

I’m proud to support Equality Utah in this important work.  

2019 United Way of Salt Lake Legislative Preview Breakfast

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This week I had the pleasure of attending the annual United Way Legislative Preview Breakfast.  This year, the main discussion among the panelists was Utah’s continually underfunded Education System and with the recent Election and Question 1, the discussion was timely and informative.  

United Way President and CEO, Bill Crim kicked off the event by talking about the United Way’s legislative priorities.  At the very top of that list is public education and adequate funding for our students and teachers.  During the 2018 election, Utah voters shot down a proposal that would have infused Utah’s Public Schools with necessary funds for classrooms and teacher pay.  It is now back in the legislature’s hands to fund public education.  Six in ten Utah children start school not ready to learn, which mean we need to not only fund k-12education, but also pre-k and early childhood.  

The panel also focused on education and early childhood education.  The 4 panelists were the new Speaker of the Utah House, Rep. Brad Wilson (R – Layton), the New President of the Senate, Sen. Stuart Adams (R-Layton), the House Minority Leader, Rep. Brian King (D-Salt Lake) and Senate Minority Leader Sen. Karen Mayne (D-West Valley).   Rep. King said, the “most effective use of education money comes in the first 8 years of life.”  Utah must do better when it comes to funding important early childhood education.  Sen. Mayne touched on the need for afterschool programs as well.  They greatly increase a student’s chance for success.  

 Also, part of the discussion was the recent Medicaid expansion passed by Utah voters.  Sen. Karen Mayne touched on the reported addition of a work requirement to the initiative and talked about someone’s ability to work being based on their health.  This article in the Deseret News details part of this discussion and highlights the ongoing threats to Medicaid expansion that will ultimately slow implementation and increase barriers to low-income families for whom Medicaid provides crucial access to health care.

The legislature has a full schedule and more than 1000 bills to get through this session, and it is my hope that they will give our public schools, afterschool programs, and early childhood education the infusion it needs to help Utah students succeed.Re. Rebecca Chavez-Houck said it best, “the lottery of life should be the key determinant of a child’s success.”Utah students deserve better

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