Utah Democratic lawmakers are condemning behavior during its Thursday caucus meeting, when a presenter gave the state’s lone African American lawmaker a name tag that said “slave” on it, while comparing polygamy to slavery.
Angela Kelly, director of the anti-polygamy group Sound Choices Coalition, was speaking to Democratic lawmakers in the Caucus meeting about why she opposes a bill to make polygamy between consenting adults an infraction rather than a felony.
Rep. Sandra Hollins, D-Salt Lake City, said Kelly then placed a name tag in front of her that said “slave” and she was shocked.
“I felt belittled by her action,” Hollins said. “Afterwards I sat there in disbelief and then I got up and decided to leave. And I went to the House floor because I felt I needed some time to process what happened.”
Hollins said that she understands why some are comparing slavery and polygamy, but “when you start looking at trying to build a political career, build your organization, off of slavery of my ancestors, that's where I have a problem.”
Kelly wouldn’t comment on the “slave” name tag, calling the uproar over it “high school drama.” She did, however, defend her comparison of polygamy to slavery.
“You're not a human and neither is she,” Kelly said, referring to women in plural marriages. “She's not because you've labeled her, and they do in, in these groups. Their sole purpose is to be a wife and a mother.”
The Democratic Caucus released a statement Friday, corroborating Hollins’ account and demanding that Kelly apologize.
“As a caucus, we regret not confronting and shutting down Angela Kelly’s presentation earlier and for allowing a mortifying presentation to proceed,” the statement said. “Her behavior was racist and absolutely inappropriate.”
Rep. Angela Romero, D-Salt Lake City, said she was outside the room during the exchange, but walked in and shut down the presentation when she heard what was going on.
“I was disappointed that it didn't stop sooner,” Romero said. “As a person of color here up at the Legislature, these are things that Rep. Hollins and Sen. Escamilla and our other members that are from communities of color experience from time to time. And I think sometimes for people, they don't recognize it, because it doesn't directly impact them. So I think this is a learning moment for all of us.”
Sonja Hutson covers politics for KUER. Follow her on Twitter @SonjaHutson