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Equality Utah held its 12th Annual Allies Dinner on Monday evening in the Salt Palace Convention Center, and Weber State University students and faculty were there to show support.
The event’s theme was “Equality in the Community,” and the dinner featured actor, Sundance Film Festival founder and LGBTQA activist Robert Redford as the keynote speaker.
“The event is held in part to raise funds and awareness for the programs and resources they offer to our community,” said Adrienne Andrews, the WSU assistant to the president for diversity. “But they also do it to recognize the hard work and efforts of volunteers, community leaders, community partners, for change that provides equality for everyone in our community.”
Anyone, from businesses and organizations to individuals who wanted to donate to a good cause, could purchase tables. The event brought together an energetic crowd filled with LGBTQ identifiers and allies.
“It’s always really fun to go to these events,” said Karlee Berezay, an LGBTQ advocate. “Everyone is all dressed up and is super friendly, and especially as a student, getting to go to these events is like what you see in the movies — very elaborate and fancy, but there is less of a fancy feeling.”
This year, the dinner broke records with more than 2,200 attendants.
“It was terrific to see a true cross-section of Utahns present to support equality for all people,” Andrews said. “It made you feel like equality is happening, and we are all a part of that change.”
The Allies for Equality award was given to three recipients: the Salt Lake School District Board, Stephanie Pappas and Troy Williams. The school board was chosen because of its work in providing benefits and support to LGBTQ faculty and staff partners.
Andrews said the school board faced tremendous opposition and that it was heartwarming to see outgoing people stand against opposition and shift their board to one that would be able to develop policies providing equal protection under the law.
This year’s dinner also debuted the Lincoln Award. The recipient was Republican Utah State Senator Steve Urquhart, who is also a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and said he strongly supports equality for all Utahns in his acceptance speech. He also brought non-discrimination legislation to the Utah senate.
“One of the biggest reasons oftentimes that these clauses don’t pass is because people don’t think it is an issue,” Berezay said. “So when you actually see the numbers and see the impact that happens with the families, when you have one person providing for the family lose their job for something so trivial, it really affects them. This happens way more than we think it does.”
Redford, a social justice advocate, articulated how Utah is poised to lead in a shift for equality.
“I’m here for the same reason you are — equal rights for all,” he said. “Like you, I believe there’s no place in our world for discrimination. None. I hope in this particular case that Utah can catch up, and what happens in Utah can matter in a profound way. Any time you change the lines or change laws in Utah that are discriminatory, many are going to see it as a benchmark, possibly, for other places.”
As the night progressed, Brandie Balken, the director of Equality Utah, set out a plan for the organization’s future that included doubling staff and getting out into the communities to advocate for freedoms, rights and benefits for the LGBTQ community.
“Policy is about changing lives,” she said. “Our people have been left out, locked out.”
Balken said Equality Utah will not allow that to happen anymore and encouraged everyone to get out and get involved.
“One of the fundamental ways that I would encourage our campus to get involved is to come to LGBT Resources and talk to our LGBT advocate, Karlee Berezay,” Andrews said.
Berezay said it was great to meet people working to make a change in other Utah schools and see how the administrations are coming together.
On Oct. 3, the LGBT lounge will open and host different activities, resources and talks to bring the WSU community together in equality.