SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4) – Rusty Andrade remembers vividly the night he and a friend were attacked and beaten after leaving a gay club in downtown Salt Lake City in 2014.
“I didn’t feel safe coming home after that,” said Andrade, who still has scars on his hands from the attack. He suffers from PTSD and had to have procedures done on his mouth after two men, yelling homophobic slurs, beat him and his friend as they returned home from the club.
“The physical scars mostly on my hands are all that’s left now,” said Andrade. “Beyond that, it’s mostly just the emotional side now…and of course, the impact it has on your life…it really changes the trajectory.” Andrade moved from his downtown Salt Lake City apartment to Cottonwood Heights because the memories of the attack were too strong, he said.
The two perpetrators – both from Wyoming – were charged with misdemeanors. Andrade was disappointed the crime was dealt with so leniently. In 2016 Andrade, who is also a Board Chair for Equality Utah, joined then-Senator Steve Urquhart pushing anti-hate crime legislation that would create stiffer penalties for perpetrators. Senate Bill 86: Victim Targeting Penalty Enhancements was stuck down in the legislature after supporters said the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints refused to back the bill, which would have penalized perpetrators for targeting members or supposed members of a specific group.
The Church said then the bill did not strike a good enough balance between LGBTQ rights and religious liberties.
Equality Utah said then that Senate Bill 86 was not a “gay bill,” but a bill to protect all marginalized groups. At that time, Urquhart publicly accused the LDS Church of working behind the scenes to block the bill because of the protections for LGBTQ groups.
Now, Senator Daniel Thatcher (R-West Valley City) is poised to reintroduce Senate Bill 86. Thatcher said he believes there has been a shift in culture, and that great progress has been made since the bill was struck down in 2016.
“I hope that supporters will take heart that each year we have had more and more support coming to the table,” Thatcher told ABC4 Monday. “In 2017, we saw every law enforcement agency in the state come to the table and join us…in 2018 we had the entire religious community save one come to the table and join us.”
The “one” religious community that did not support the effort was the LDS Church, Thatcher said. Monday, the Church declined to comment on the legislation to ABC4.
This conversation comes as many mourn the loss of 11 members of a Jewish synagogue in Pittsburgh, who were gunned down during a baby-naming ceremony in late October. Authorites said they were targeted because of their faith. In Utah, hate crimes were up by 32 percent between 2016 and 2017.
Opponents of the bill believe penalizing hate speech would violate the First Amendment.
Andrade said he believes the LDS Church, by not supporting the bill, are failing to protect Utahns in a state where the Church, he says, has a lot of political sway.
“We have a hole that needs to be fixed in our laws and that’s where we try to advocate,” said Andrade.