Sen. Ross Romero, D-Salt Lake City, sought Tuesday to pass a resolution creating a short one-time diversity- and sensitivity-training orientation for new legislators. The committee killed the resolution with little justification as to why, but at least one Senator on the committee, got some diversity training when Romero had to define “gender identity” to Sen. Casey Anderson, R-Cedar City, in explaining how transgender Utahns may self-identify their gender. After receiving this explanation, Anderson would vote in favor of the resolution but would be the only Republican on the committee to do so.
Romero’s Senate Joint Resolution 24 was crafted simply to provide demographic information on the state’s diverse populations to new legislators. Romero sought to amend the resolution at the outset of the committee so as to recognize, but not limit, the new sensitivity training to Utah’s populations divided by race, gender, sexual orientation and gender identity, among other groups. That’s when Anderson had to seek clarification from Romero. “What is gender identity?” Anderson asked.
Romero at that point explained and brought Equality Utah director Brandie Balken to provide a crash course on how some individuals self-identify their gender in situations where the individual identifies with a gender different than the sexual anatomy they may have been born with.
“Truly, many people’s gender may be nebulous at birth,” Balken said of situations where gender isn’t clear, even to doctors. “[Gender identity] gives them a chance to represent their internal sense of gender.”
Once the discussion had ended, however, the committee summarily rejected the amendment. Regardless, Romero argued that it was time that simple demographic information be provided to new legislators so they could have a grasp of the diversity of various citizens of the state. Romero said the idea came to him in the wake of the uproar of former Sen. Chris Buttars, R-West Jordan, having criticized a bill as a “black baby.” Romero says that while he did not believe Buttars meant anything racist in his remarks, it did give him pause and make him realize that the Legislature needed to better understand the state’s increasing diversity.
“From a private business perspective, one of the ways we see opportunities is in new markets and new communities,” Romero said. “I don’t think as [legislators] serving our constituents is any different. I think understanding who we all represent as we continue moving forward is very helpful to the process.”
Romero imagined that the orientation for new legislators would comprise a meeting between 20 and 45 minutes long. In arguing for the bill, he asked legislators to consider how they represent themselves to other state legislatures and what kind of perception was cast. He acknowledged that he had heard legislators often refer to undocumented immigrants as “illegal aliens” and even heard the term “redskin” applied by a fellow legislator.
The only concern raised by the committee was from Anderson, who asked about putting in the resolution a clear understanding of how long the orientation might be. The rest of the committee did not ask questions or comment on the resolution, but did vote against it, with only Anderson and Sen. Luz Robles, D-Salt Lake City, voting in favor of the measure.
If you want to find out who your legislator is so you can contact them about this resolution, click here. If you want to contact SJR 24 resolution sponsor Sen. Ross Romero, D-Salt Lake City, click here. For more updates from the 2012 Legislature, follow @EricSPeterson on Twitter.