The 2019 Legislative Session came to a close this month, and this year I have closely watched several pieces of legislation. Equality Utah sponsored two essential bills, one banning conversion therapy and the other creating a hate crimes statute. In addition, I observed three bills supported by the United Way of Salt Lake that would increase early childhood education funding and increase scholarship opportunities. Some of these important bills passed, and unfortunately some didn’t.
Tami and I support Equality Utah and its mission of securing equal rights and protections for LGBTQ+ Utahns and their families. We especially support Equality Utah’s work to stop the damaging practice of Conversion Therapy in Utah. Eleven states and the District of Columbia have already made conversion therapy illegal for state-licensed mental health providers. Despite this, conversion therapy is still being implemented in Utah County and Salt Lake County. Read more about what is being done to change this here.
Earlier In 2018 Matthew Shepard was finally interred in a place of honor in the Washington National Cathedral.
My friends and I in the gay community in northern Utah were rocked to our core by the senseless murder of Matthew Shepard back in 1998. Not only were the details horrible, but the college town of Laramie, Wyoming was similar to my town of Ogden, Utah. As a lesbian who had only been open about my sexuality for a few years, the striking reality of what homophobia could lead people to do lingered in my mind. Standing in Dupont Circle 20 years later, holding a candle in the dark with a couple hundred strangers, I recalled the feelings of horror I felt when I learned about his murder. And yet, despite that, it was affirming to hear the words of the speakers calling on people to continue to protect marginalized communities from violence.
Utah’s tech sector is growing rapidly as job opportunities increasingly present themselves across the state. But currently, women hold less than one-fourth of jobs in science, technology, engineering, and math. Without more STEM opportunities for women and girls, women will continue to be left behind in technology professions.
Tami and I attended the United Way of Salt Lake’s 2018 “Power of Your Purse” Event. This annual event raises money to give Utah teachers access to professional development opportunities so they can teach STEM in their classroom more effectively.
Tami and I went to San Francisco for the 41st anniversary celebration of the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR) back in May. The 2,000+ people gathered at the Palace of Fine Arts were, along with celebrating NCLR’s work, there honoring my friend Kate (Kathy) Kendell. Kate will retire at the end of 2018, after 22 years of being the Executive Director of NCLR. Along with tributes to Kate, the program was honoring two plaintiffs in Doe vs. Trump, the NCLR lawsuit which challenged President Trump’s ban on transgendered people’s military service. While I listened to the two young individuals, I knew that Kate Kendell had helped to create this world.
To celebrate my turning 65 years young, earlier this month I convinced my family to go on a five-day rafting trip. Exploring the vastness of the Utah desert and the serenity of the Green River, my family of eight (my wife, our adult son and daughter, son-in-law, two grandsons and granddaughter (aged between 11-15)) survived a rickety plane ride to the middle of nowhere and set off.
It was a trip of many laughs, self-discovery, family bonding, and the welcomed chance to unplug from the world for a few days. The experience of being outside, surrounded by red rock and family, surrendering ourselves to will of Mother Nature, reminded us while we can’t control external events, we do have the ability to control our attitudes toward them.
Every year, The United Way of Salt Lake hosts its annual Power of Your Purse Gala, raising funds for and celebrating the work of the Women’s Leadership Council. The efforts of the Women’s Leadership Council are focused upon Women for Education Achievement, which aims to help young girls and women reach their potential through education.
The Women’s Leadership Council is a group of over 250 local women leaders with a goal of increasing the educational opportunity and achievement for all girls and young women in our community. Their focus, the Women for Educational Achievement, shoot to make a positive impact through tracking key metrics such as:
· Increasing the percent of elementary students testing proficient or higher in math and reading by the third grade;
· Pushing middle school students to play a more active role in engaging in their education by showing they understand its value and importance to their future success;
· Measurably improved high school graduation rates; and
· A major focus on the entrance to and completion of post-secondary educational programs such as technical training or college.
To influence students in pursuing these goals, the Women’s Leadership Council has made efforts to change the narrative and cultural factors regarding women’s place in education and the workforce. By coordinating with local partners promoting education in the community, progress has been made in all of these key areas, but a lot of work must still be done. Funding curriculum that highlights the importance of post-secondary education, as well as raising awareness of and addressing financial issues that impact the ability to pursue continued education remain top priority for the Council.
The annual Power of Your Purse event is held as the signature event to bring awareness and raise funds for these issues, and more. This year’s focus will be on launching new science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) initiatives for low-income students across the Salt Lake Valley. Keynote speaker Reshma Saujani will discuss the importance of equipping young women with the technological and computing skills necessary to pursue high quality careers in the 21st century. She is the founder and CEO of Girls Who Code, a national leader on closing the gender gap in computer science and technology jobs. Her recent TED Talk on empowering girls and young women by teaching them bravery through risk-taking and the embracing failure, as well as the importance of mentorship, has over 3 million views.
While tickets to this event have sold out, you can still make a donation to support STEM initiatives for low income students by clicking here.
My recent family vacation took an unexpected turn due to international conflicts. Our original plan was to go to Turkey with my grandchildren. Ten days before we were to depart, the Ataturk Airport in Istanbul was bombed, killing 44 and injuring over 230 others. Needless to say, we changed our family travel plans, and ended up in France. Terror accompanied us there, too.
Will we stop traveling? Absolutely not. Tami and I firmly believe visiting different places and experiencing different cultures is important for our grandchildren and a part of personal development. It’s up to us to have the strength, courage, and curiosity to forge friendships and gain an appreciation for people living around the world. It’s up to us to stand with the everyday people grieving and worrying in these countries, for they are not much different than us.
We can’t let terror win. We can’t let isolationism win. Read our fully story here.
Plan-B Theatre raises awareness and invites conversation about the important issues that are present in our community. The Theatre’s productions spotlight Utah playwrights while delving into themes such as LGBTQ rights, the HIV/AIDS epidemic, cancer, racism, and religion through the use of dynamic and engaging characters to show how these issues impact people every day. Plan-B’s use of stage to focus on equality for all is a powerful medium to encourage meaningful conversations and create change in our community.
Jane and her wife Tami became directly involved with Plan-B during the 2001 production of The Laramie Project. “An extraordinary feat of theatrical journalism,” the play highlighted the social issues, events, and pressures surrounding and leading up to the 1998 murder of Matthew Shepard in Laramie, Wyoming.
This year, Plan-B Theatre is proud to announce its lineup for the 2016/17 season, featuring world premieres by Utah playwrights Debora Threedy, Tim Slover, Morag Shepherd, and Melissa Leilani Larson. The theme of the season is “what it means to speak the truth.” Four shows will comprise the season- One Big Union, Virtue, Not One Drop, and The Edible Complex. For more information on these shows, visit http://www.peaceandpossibilityproject.org/plan-b-theatre-announces-20162017-lineup/.
Established over 100 years ago as the Salt Lake Charity Association, United Way of Salt Lake’s mission has always been focused on finding ways to help the poor and coordinate and implement social programs. It has been an agent for social change by building healthy communities, expanding educational opportunities to at-risk children, and being ahead of the curve in identifying new and critical issue areas affecting the community. Today, the group serves 1.4 million people along the Wasatch Front – over half of Utah’s population.
United Way of Salt Lake is changing the way communities approach problem solving. Through its “Collective Impact” model, the organization has brought community partners together to tackle complex issues. What is the “Collective Impact” model and why is it so effective? To find out, visit the Peace & Possibility Project.