Salt Lake City councilors exhort GOP lawmakers’ efforts to remove the UTA Pride bus

The lawmakers’ efforts “reinforced the message that systems of government can decide that some people don’t belong,” the council members wrote.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) A Pride flag will be raised in Washington Square by Salt Lake City and LGBTQ+ leaders, marking the start of Pride month on Thursday, June 1, 2023.

Three members of the Salt Lake City Council said in a letter to state lawmakers on Friday that they are deeply concerned and disappointed after records show four Republican lawmakers contacted the Utah Transit Authority last week about a Pride-themed bus complained, which the Department of Transportation later ruled to withdraw from the annual Utah Pride Parade.

The bus was painted in the colors of the Progress Pride flag and UTA featured it in a May 31 Twitter post, the day before the start of Pride Month. The tweet appears to have sparked complaints from Republican lawmakers, according to text messages obtained by the Salt Lake Tribune Tuesday through a public-records request.

On June 2nd, UTA made the decision to remove the Pride-themed bus from the parade and replace it with one of UTA’s Gillig Electric buses, which did not sport Pride livery – although it still took part in the parade decorated with Pride flags.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) A Gillig Electric UTA bus at the Pride parade adorned with Pride flags on Sunday, June 4, 2023. A UTA bus with Pride livery was originally planned for the parade, but later a decision was made to pull the proudly wrapped bus and use this electric bus instead.

The letter, which Salt Lake City City Council Chairman Darin Mano, Councilman Chris Wharton and Councilman Alejandro Puy sent Friday, was addressed to the entire state legislature — including the four lawmakers, records show the UTA officials a sent text messages via the bus. Mano, Wharton and Puy all openly identify as LGBTQ+.

“UTA provides an essential service to all members of our community, regardless of sexual preference, gender identity, income, age or race,” the letter reads. “The Pride Rainbow is a welcome sign to all, especially the most marginalized, that we can drive safely. The pressure to exclude the bus from the parade sends a discouraging message to the LGBTQIA+ community and undermines progress towards inclusivity, belonging and acceptance.”

Gov. Spencer Cox did not immediately respond to a request for comment Friday.

The text messages received on Tuesday were sent by House Majority Leader Mike Schultz, R-Hooper. MPs Candice Pierucci, R-Herriman; Rep. Kay J. Christofferson, R-Lehi; and Rep. Colin Jack, R-St. George, records show.

In the messages, lawmakers expressed displeasure with the bus and most said they were concerned that public money would be used for the livery, even though the pride wrap was funded by a private donation from R&R Advertising and Lamar Advertising, according to UTA -Speaker Carl Arky told The Tribune.

“Honestly, that’s the last thing I want to deal with right now,” Schultz said in a text message to a UTA board member. “It would really be best if you made the change yourself. Let me know what you’ve come up with.”

(Utah Transit Authority) A Utah Transit Authority bus with Pride livery, as shared in a tweet by UTA on May 31, 2023.

Schultz told the board member that a group of lawmakers had requested a “formal public apology” from UTA, citing an apparent quote from House Speaker Brad Wilson, who announced in April that he was a candidate for the US Senate 2024 reviewed against Senator Mitt Romney.

“Whoever made the decision to go ahead with this bus absolutely knew it was going to be controversial,” Schultz continued. “To quote the announcer, ‘We live in Utah, we shouldn’t have to deal with this stuff.'”

In their letter, Mano, Wharton and Puy said that pressure from lawmakers to remove the bus reinforced the message that “government systems can decide that some people don’t belong,” the councilors wrote, adding that this “is on us Rosa Parks remembered”. She is expected to give up her seat for a white passenger.”

“As a legislator representing all Utah residents, your opportunity is to spend tax dollars wisely and create an environment where all people feel safe and valued,” the letter continues. “And that includes transit.”

Council members said the Pride-themed bus should not be taken as a political statement and that the privately funded livery served as a “powerful symbol of support” and showed that the state stands against all forms of discrimination.

“We must remember that the LGBTQIA+ community here in the Utah cities they love dearly continue to face unique challenges and often encounter prejudice,” the council members wrote.

“We wish the Pride Parade could have been used as an opportunity to focus on the well-being of our fellow citizens and uphold the values ​​of inclusivity, respect and love,” the letter continues. “By keeping this in mind, we as legislators in our great state can effectively recognize the differences in our communities and celebrate our common humanity.”

The four state lawmakers who contacted UTA last week did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Friday.

— This is an evolving story. Check back for updates.

Justin Scaccy

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