SALT LAKE CITY — A landmark Utah proposal protecting gay and transgender individuals passed its first test at the state Legislature on Thursday when a Republican-controlled Senate committee offered its unanimous and at times emotional support of the measure.
Todd Weiler, a Republican senator from Woods Cross, said he comes from “a conservative, Mormon background” but he’s met many transgender individuals, including one in his neighborhood who grew up with his son.
“I don’t understand those things,” Weiler said, “I understand that those people are different than I am, and that they have rights, and I am 100 percent convinced that they should be protected.”
Weiler, who struggled to stay composed, said the bill would send a message to young people struggling with their identity and “struggling with whether they want to stay alive.”
The bill, which has earned the rare stamp of approval from the Utah-based Mormon church, bars discrimination against gay and transgender individuals while protecting the rights of religious groups and individuals. Drafters of the bill said they hope it serves as a model to other states looking to balance the issues.
It advances to the full Senate for a vote.
Republican Gov. Gary Herbert said Thursday afternoon that if the bill makes it to his desk, he’ll sign it.
During a two-hour hearing Thursday, lawmakers heard from gay and transgender residents who described their fears and experiences, including being evicted after landlords learned of their sexual orientation.
Neca Allgood, of Syracuse, appeared with her 20-year-old child Grayson Moore, who is transgender.
“I want him to be hired and promoted on the basis of his ability, effort and education, rather than his gender identity,” Allgood said.
They also heard from several religious and conservative groups who spoke against the measure.
“This bill would allow a teacher to come in cross-dressed into your children’s schoolroom and there’s nothing the school can do about it. You can’t say anything about it,” Draper resident Abraham Rodriguez said.