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Republican Gubernatorial Candidates Discuss LGBTQ Issues in Historic Forum Hosted by Equality Utah

Photo of two men sitting in grey armchairs.
Screenshot via Facebook
Equality Utah Executive Director Troy Williams (left) talks with former Gov. Jon Huntsman about LGBTQ issues during a gubernatorial candidate forum.

All four Republican candidates for governor participated in a forum hosted by the LGBTQ advocacy group Equality Utah Thursday. 

The group said this is a first in state history. 

All the candidates pledged to give members of the LGBTQ community a seat at the table when discussing policies that affect them. 

“If we’re truly listening and not listening to argue, not listening to debate, but listening to understand, then there can be a meeting of the minds,” said Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox. “And even if we don't do what that person wants, at least they have the respect and understand that they had an opportunity to influence the process.”

In 2013, the same year Cox became lieutenant governor, Gov. Gary Herbert’s adminstration was fighting a lawsuit from now-state Sen. Derek Kitchen over a Utah law banning same sex marriage. 

“Gov. Herbert has since then signed our nondiscrimination law in 2015, he signed a bill to overturn an anti-gay curriculum law in 2017,” said Equality Utah Executive Director Troy Williams, who moderated the forum. “Last year, he signed an LGBTQ inclusive hate crimes law. And this year, he helped us in conversion therapy for minors. That's an incredible arc.”

Cox agreed and said listening to LGBTQ Utahns contributed to that change. 

“I'm grateful for that arc,” Cox said. “I believe I had something to do with it as we've worked so closely together and come to a better understanding.”

Former Gov. Jon Huntsman pointed to his support of a package of anti-discrimination proposals put forth by Equality Utah when he was governor in 2009. It wasn’t until six years later that the state passed an LGBTQ anti-discrimination law.

"Until we got to full equality — particularly on marriage — we were deficient,” Huntsman said. “Although I couldn't come right out and say ‘marriage equality,’ I wanted to support a very important incremental step that would get people talking about it.”

Greg Hughes was speaker of the Utah House when that anti-discrimination bill passed in 2015. 

“In a session that had a lot of big, big issues — that one we spent hours upon hours upon hours, not only in the speaker's office, but in meetings and bringing people together,” he said. 

In order to move away from political polarization, Hughes said politicians need to take time to understand people that are different from them. 

“There's the human nature that you're more comfortable with what you know than what you don't,” Hughes said. “We have to be sensitive to that and overcome it. The other [thing] is, look, we got bullies out there … you have to push back on bullies.”

Williams pushed Hughes on that point, arguing that many feel President Donald Trump — who Hughes supports — is a bully. 

“My experience has been opposite of that,” Hughes said. “I think there's been some things for the little guy and gal … that this president has offered.”

Former Utah GOP Chair Thomas Wright said when he attended the Allies Dinner hosted by Equality Utah in 2012, it seemed like he was the only Republican there. Wright argued Republicans need to do a better job of making LGBTQ Utahns feel welcome in their party. 

“Let's love people more than we love our political opinions,” Wright said. “Let's try to meet people on their ground and say, you know what, I want to understand you better. Will you understand me better?”

Williams pushed Wright on his running mate, U.S. Rep. Rob BIshop, whose voting record has received a score of zero for the last six years from the Human Rights Campaign, a national LGBTQ advocacy group. 

“He should be asked those questions directly and he should answer those questions,” Wright said. “But I'm the governor, right? You know where I stand. You know I'm an ally.”

Utah’s primary is June 30 and will be conducted entirely by mail, with the exception of San Juan County. Seven counties will have drive-up locations where voters can pick up a mail-in ballot if they didn’t receive one. 

The voter registration deadline is June 19. Only registered Republicans can vote in the GOP primary. 

Sonja Hutson is a politics and government reporter at KUER.
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