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


Scholarship Opportunity for Weber State Students

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In 2015, Tami and I, with Weber State University, founded the Peace and Possibility Speaker Series in partnership with the LGBT Resource Center.  The series aims to bring to bring high profile LGBT leaders and advocates to the university to provide cultural opportunities, enhance the “welcomeness” and inclusion on campus and cultivate the “ally” community. 

In 2016, as part of the Speaker’s Series, we launched the first essay contest for Weber State Students to earn $1000 and $500 scholarships for writing their stories and experiences within the LGBTQ+ Community to achieve success and make a difference. 
Once again, this year, the LGBT Resource Center is accepting student essays. Students who submit an essay could win a cash scholarship; 1st place will receive $1000, 2nd and 3rd place will each receive $500. Any student interested in sharing their experience for a chance to win a scholarship should submit an essay.

The topic of the essay is: 

Using your talents, skills, and experience as an LGBTQ+ person or ally to achieve success and make a difference. 

·      What does LGBTQ+ mean to you? 

·      How do you or would you leverage your talents, skills, and experience to achieve success and make a difference? 

·      In what ways has your LGBTQ+ identity or involvement with the LGBTQ+ community influenced your life? 

Essay Requirements: 

Applicants must be current Weber State University students. Essays should be typed, 500-750 words, and address the topic of the essay competition. The questions listed can be used for guidance in addressing the topic.

Essays are due and should be submitted to Jayson Stokes by  Monday, November 26, 2018 at 5:00 pm. 

Tami and I look forward to reading the winning essays - the students have amazing stories to share. 



Twenty Years Later: Reflections on the Death of Matthew Shepard


Imagine experiencing the death of a child.  And then imagine your child was a gay college student who died as a result of a brutal attack that left him beaten and suffering. And next imagine that tensions were so high at the time of his funeral that you, his parent, had to wear a bulletproof vest under your suit to the service.  And finally imagine it took twenty years to find a place where you could safely lay your son’s remains to rest without fear of them being desecrated by further anti-gay violence.   Such has been the journey of the parents of Matthew Shepard since his horrific murder in October of 1998.  This month, with much love and respect, Matthew was finally interred in a place of honor in the Washington National Cathedral.  

I discovered this event was happening when I was in Washington D.C. for work and inadvertently, but fortuitously, ended up at a candlelight vigil in Dupont Circle, held on the night before Matthew’s formal interment in the National Cathedral.  Two hundred plus people had gathered around the fountain in Dupont Circle to sing, reflect, and hear words of inspiration from community and religious leaders. The Rev. Gene Robinson, the Episcopal priest who in 2003 was the first openly gay person to be elected a bishop in a major Christian denomination, and who became a friend and supporter of the Shepards, spoke to the crowd about the need to reaffirm unity in the face of hatred.

As a tribute to Matthew and his family, it's useful to reflect not only on the tragedy, but also on things that happened as a result.  First, let me say that my friends and I in the gay community in northern Utah were rocked to our core by this senseless murder.  Not only were the details horrific, but the college town of Laramie, Wyoming was not all that different from my town of Ogden, Utah.  As a lesbian who had only been open about my sexuality for a few years, and who had received some nasty threats from homophobic locals, the reality of what homophobia could lead people to do was hard to shake.  As I stood in Dupont Circle 20 years later, holding a candle in the dark with a couple hundred strangers, it was easy to recall the feelings of fear and horror engendered by his murder.  And yet, with the sadness, it was also affirming to hear the words of the speakers, calling on people to continue to show love and to continue to work to protect marginalized communities from violence.  The evening’s experience made me think of the ways in which Matthew's death had given us opportunities to find and reaffirm that unity.  

First, in the Fall of 1998, my wife, Tami, and I joined many others to help start the Matthew Shepard Scholarship at Weber State University in Ogden, Utah.  It was the first scholarship in Matthew’s name in the country.  Created to assist students who were committed to eliminating lgbt bias and reducing violence, the scholarship fund continues to be strong and to date has provided financial assistance for over 30 students at Weber State.   To my knowledge, this was the first scholarship that existed at Weber that was allowed to reward students who were committed to advancing lgbt rights.  I am sure such a scholarship would have eventually come along, but the circumstances of Matthew's death set in motion the energy needed to actually create and obtain University approval for such a fund.  (The scholarship did not come without its detractors; it was only after a strong push from a supportive university administration that the fund overcame community critics and was allowed to come into existence.) 

Second, in the early 2000s, Tami and I discovered a local production of The Laramie Project by a nascent theater company called Plan B.  The Laramie Project is the true story of the reaction of the residents of Laramie after Matthew’s murder.    We were blown away by the play, and in the process were introduced to the creative genius of Jerry Rapier, the Artistic Director of Plan B. Tami went on to become a long-time board member of Plan B Theater and we have been dedicated financial supporters of this local theater company's work for many years.  Plan B is an important local resource that produces the work of Utah playwrights, often gives voice to lgbt issues, and is famous for producing theater that creates conversation.  Had it not been for their production of The Laramie Project, we might never have discovered them.

Third, we had the opportunity to meet and listen to Matthew's mother, Judy Shepard, at a variety of events over the next two decades.  She would not know us, but we were awestruck by her resolve and ability to turn her grief into a call for action. She is a small, shy, quiet woman who I gather would have been happy to avoid any publicity for the entirety of her life. Instead, she was willing to step up and speak openly and honestly over the years, and in the process touched thousands of hearts and changed thousands of minds.  After Matt was murdered, President Clinton in 1999 urged Congress to expand federal hate crimes law to include sexual orientation.   It was initially received as giving "special protections" to gay people and was voted down in Congress year after year.  Judy continued to advocate for the need to protect people like her son, and finally, in 2009, Congress passed the Matthew Shepard & James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act and President Obama signed it into law.  

What lessons have we learned from Matthew Shepard’s saga?  Perhaps that when death slams one door shut, other doors open. We are reminded that good people will rally together after experiencing tragedy; that hearts can be changed and that laws can be improved. However, we apparently have a long way to go in learning to stop senseless violence.  As I write this, our country is reeling from a week that saw pipe bombs mailed to leading political figures and the murder by gun of many Jewish people while they were worshipping inside their Pittsburg synagogue. 

The answer? I don’t know.  But I do know this:  each one of us can start right now to take personal responsibility for being kind. No committee meetings, no protocol, no fund-raising, no approval needed – just start.  Be kind to yourself, be kind to your family, be kind to your neighbors, be kind to strangers.  Start now – it won’t hurt us to be kind while we figure out together the bigger answers.

I think your kindness would make Matthew Shepard smile.

Peace and Possibility Sponsor Power of Your Purse Event


The future is bright for Utah’s tech sector as job opportunities are rapidly growing across the state. But currently, women hold less than one-fourth of jobs in science, technology, engineering, and math. Without more STEM opportunities for women and girls, women will continue to be left behind in technology professions.

Last week, Tami and I attended the United Way of Salt Lake’s annual “Power of Your Purse” Event.  Each year this event hosted by “Women United” raises money to give more Utah teachers access to professional development opportunities so they can teach STEM in their classrooms and create more STEM learning opportunities in local schools.   

Our guest speaker this year was Debbie Sterling, Founder & CEO of GoldieBlox, an award winning company on a mission to “disrupt the pink aisle” with toys, games, and media for girls.  Debbie is a Stanford University graduate, an engineer, an entrepreneur and one of the leaders in the movement toward getting girls interested in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).  Ms. Sterling inspired the audience through laughter and personal stories as she described her mission to significantly  increase the number of women who pursue careers in STEM fields. 

I currently sit on the United Way of Salt Lake’s board and executive committee,  and the Peace and Possibility Project was a presenting sponsor of the event held at the Eccles Theater on October 3.  





Peace and Possibility Project Supporting YWCA for 3rd Year


For the third year in a row, the Peace and Possibility Project has supported the YWCA’s Utah Women’s Well Being Initiative.

The YWCA of Utah has been a voice for women, a force for change and a place for hope since 1906.  In May 2013 YWCA Utah began the nonpartisan Utah Women’s Well-Being Initiative.  The purpose of the initiative is to strengthen the well-being of Utah women across important dimensions of their lives through research, education, collaboration, and public policy – so that women flourish, their families and communities thrive, and Utah prospers.

In 2018 the YWCA worked to pass 8 bills, hosted staff from five of the six Utah Congressional offices for a tour of campus and informational meeting about the YWCA as part of YWCA USA’s biennial In District Advocacy Day, hosted a sold-out Women’s Policy Conference, and updated the Well Being of Women in Utah Fact Sheet (found here).

Tami and I are proud to support the important work of the Utah Well Being Initiative and the YWCA of Utah.

Equality Utah Allies Dinner 2018 - Ana Navarro


Last month, Equality Utah announced its’ keynote speakers and Award winners. Tami and I are looking forward to being at Allies Dinner 2018 - Wake the Hive.

Keynote Speaker - Ana Navarro
“I'm not the kind of person that sits around kind of envisioning things.” – Ana Navarro

Ana Navarro, a Republican strategist and commentator, was national Hispanic campaign chairwoman for John McCain in 2008, national Hispanic co-chair for Jon Huntsman's 2012 campaign and is supporting Jeb Bush's candidacy for 2016.

Award Winners

Tan France
Tan France from the smash Netflix series Queer Eye will receive an Impact Award at our upcoming celebration on November 3rd. Though his home is in Salt Lake City, Tan and his cohorts in the Fab 5 have been traveling across Georgia winning hearts and transforming lives.

March for Our Lives - Salt Lake City
The next generation is here to Wake the Hive! Equality Utah will honor the students from March for Our Lives UTAH with an Allies Award. These Utah youth have demonstrated courage, resilience and vision to address gun violence in schools. 

Purchase Tickets Here