Happy Spring! Already the tree in my backyard is blooming, the flowers in the front garden are blooming, there is green everywhere, the temperatures are climbing into the 70s and soon it will be time to plant the vegetables in the back garden.
This has been an incredibly busy and exciting month. I got a new job, a new logo, witnessed history in the making, was broadsided on the way to a city council meeting, and connected with over 300 residents in Midvale. Meanwhile Top Golf's announcement that it is moving to Midvale is generating excitement.
A New Job
Back in January, practically everyone at my last company was laid off when the company failed its rebid with the Defense Logistics Agency by being underbid by IBM. Most of us finally landed a new position, and I found a 6-month to two year contract programming opportunity at a company called Unishippers in Murray, and a 7 minute drive from my home in Midvale. The good news is that I am contracting at a rate comparable to my old salary and am able to spend` more time focusing on service to the local community. My employer was kind enough to let me have some time off to be active up on the hill. After 6 weeks of unemployment, I'm drawing a paycheck again, even though I have to wait until May 1 for health insurance to kick in at the cost of just over $700 per month through my contract company, Kelly.
A New Logo
You've probably noticed a new logo at the top of the webpage, my FaceBook page, and my Twitter feed. I had an inspiration for how I wanted to try to highlight my compassion in the logo. I have to admit that I am not a graphic artist, and with the input of supporters and the fantastic work of Clyde Trujillo, I now have something that I can truly call my own. I've already ordered my new stock of business cards and some return labels that will carry this logo. If you receive the community newsletter, this is an easy way to identify it came from me, when paired with my signature at the bottom.
A Witness to History
I was given two tickets by Equality Utah to attend the Freedom Brunch on Valentine's Day in exchange for sharing one of my stories of discrimination, so naturally I took my wife. To be honest, I didn't know that this was Equality Utah's PAC lunch, but decided that if there were going to be legislators there, that I wanted to meet them.
At one point, while I was briefly chatting with Senator Dabakis, he asked if I had seen Senator Adams. I informed him that we had not even met yet. Senator Adams had apparently never been to an Equality function before, and when I asked the Senator if Senator Adams was ready to meet a transgender person, he didn't think that he would be ready for that yet. As I stood there with my wife, about to move on, Senator Adams came down into the rotunda, extending his hand out to shake mine as he introduced himself.
Later during the luncheon, I made a point to introduce myself to Senator Todd Weiler and explain from a personal viewpoint why we needed statewide non-discrimination legislation.
Somewhere around this time, Equality Utah hosted a meet and greet with legislators in the Senate building, and seeing Representative Jake Anderegg in attendance, as well the legislators that I knew, I thanked them all for their support of non-discrimination.
On Wednesday, March 4th, things began to accelerate. That morning, I found out that there had been a compromise on the Equality Bill, and Senator Dabakis asked me to be at a Town Hall meeting that evening, that I might be expected to say a few words. I quickly contacted someone to cover my secretarial duties on the Community Council. While I wasn't called upon to speak, I did have a quick interview with Ben Winslow from Fox 13 when I was leaving the Town Hall. It was explained to us how the bill worked and how no additional religious exemptions were being carved out. Having grown up Southern Baptist and switching to Unitarian Universalism, I understand the need to protect respectful religious expression, while I also understand how much damage religious viewpoints can cause. The bill wasn't perfect, but I knew in my heart that it would protect the least vulnerable among us, while at the same time not leaving transgender people behind. Having run my own support group trying to keep transgender people with some hope and keep them alive, I knew this bill would save lives, and so it therefore had my full support.
That Friday, the new compromise bill, SB 296, started making history. It sailed through the Senate committee hearing and was headed to the Senate floor for a vote on Monday, March 9. I got the okay from my new employer who encouraged me to be there as Senator Adams sponsored the bill to the full Senate. I listened as senators broke into tears, and as Senator Todd Weiler, who I had met almost a month earlier said that a month ago, he wouldn't have been in favor of protections for transgender people, but now he absolutely was. Over 2/3 voted for the bill, sending it to the House Judiciary Committee to be heard on Monday. My employer granted me time to attend the hearing, and I prepared the following statement that I never got a chance to read:
"My name is Sophia Hawes-Tingey. I speak as a software engineer with over 20 years of experience that moved to Utah over four years ago, and as a transgender woman.
"I accepted a job here because discrimination based on gender identity is illegal in Salt Lake County. I am also a Unitarian Universalist who grew up Baptist. I understand both the need for religious expression and the damage religious viewpoints can cause.
"I speak on behalf of this bill because it strikes a good balance and will save lives. It will also remove a disincentive preventing some of the most talented individuals from seeking employment in this state.
"If you vote against this bill, you are in effect licensing discrimination, striking hope for the most vulnerable among us.
"If you have not been the victim of discrimination, you have probably not seen it: the way people look at you, the sneers, the unkind words thrown your way, the violence. You can say you don't believe it exists, but I have experienced it."
The bill was passed out of the Judiciary Committee on a vote of 9-2. A group of us headed to the House Gallery that evening expecting it to be heard, but had to come back the following day.
March 11, with a promise that Governor would sign the bill, and having spent all afternoon at the Capitol waiting, even having lunch with reporters, the bill was finally brought to the floor for a vote. A lot of beautiful words were said in support of the bill, as people who I recognized, who I had met over the course of the last year, one after another got up in support of the bill. While he didn't speak to it, even my new elected representative, Bruce Cutler, voted for the bill. A lot of tears flowed, on the floor, and in the gallery, and in the end, the bill passed with and incredible majority, 62-10.
I couldn't hold it any longer, and even though I knew we weren't supposed to make any kind of noise, I started clapping. Soon, I was joined by the entire two sections of the gallery where I was sitting, and when I stood to present a standing ovation, I noticed my good friend, Troy Williams, the Director of Equality Utah had already done so. The House of Representatives received a full standing ovation from the gallery that night and the ushers told us we had to sit down or leave. I hear the recorder also had tears in her eyes and had to have her assistant read the next item on the docket.
As we departed the gallery, even though the Executive Directors of Restore Our Humanity, Equality Utah, and TEA of Utah were present, as well as the sponsors of the bill, Ben Winslow of Fox13 grabbed me for an interview. In my second interview for Fox13, I spoke of eggshells and hope. All that was left was attending the Governor's signing the following day. These protections are even more significant in Utah, which has the 7th highest self-reported rate of LGBT people in the nation. By the way, that's the picture of my friend, Dallas Rivas, and I holding the Rainbow Flag on Marriage Victory Day, October 6, 2014, when my own marriage became legal for the final time.
The day before this all happened, the day before the town hall, I was headed to the Midvale City Council meeting and at roughly 6:15 pm, near the mobile taco vending cart, my vision through my driver's side window filled up with a silver sedan. My first thought was, there is no way that car is going to make that turn. That's an awfully wide turn. I hit my brakes since I was already in the far right lane, and felt the impact.
Both my driver's side doors have to be replaced and the arthritic condition from my Navy injury in my lower back may have been triggered once again. Looks like I'll be headed for therapy starting sometime on on after May 1 when my health insurance kicks in.
It could have been worse, much worse. If the other driver hadn't started to turn when she did, I would have be hit full on with all the impact going straight to me. As it was, the force of her impact was deflected by her turn. The insurance company wrote me a check for close to $3,000 for the damages, and I should be getting the vehicle into the shop in a couple of weeks. When I arrived at the City Council meeting a little late, I was not in the mood to take notes, but I still wanted to be informed of what was going on.
I have been going door to door for the last few months trying to connect with as many of the residents as I can, and providing my services on the Community Council. As a result, I have contacted roughly just over 300 people.
I find it a pleasure to serve on the Community Council of Midvale. For me, leadership is a gift of service, whose reward is seeing people helped in the community.
I want to bring your attention to a couple of community building events in which you can be involved. The first event is the Midvale General Plan. The organizers want to know what your vision for Midvale is for the next 10 years, what you would like to see built, what you would like to see protected, and what you would like to see maintained. If you are a Midvale resident, please go to http://planmidvale.com for more information.
Also, we are working with the Unified Police Department to get more Neighborhood Watch training and signs for the neighborhoods. If you are interested, please contact Jesse Valenzuela (firstname.lastname@example.org) or myself.
Finally, if there is any way I can be of service to you or your neighbors on the Community Council of Midvale, please don't hesitate to contact me. The Community Council is an advocacy organization that represents the community to the city, which includes the Mayor, City Manager, and City Council. I have also been attending the twice-monthly Midvale City Council meetings since July 2014; so if there is anything I can do to help with issues you may be having with city services, it would be my honor and privilege to work with you to figure things out.
Finally, Top Golf has made headlines by announcing that they are creating 450 jobs in Midvale, Utah. The 450 jobs they announced is misleading. I would be more excited if, during their presentation to the city, they hadn't glossed over the fact that they would be providing 100 full time jobs with a total of 300 jobs, which doesn't line up with the 450 jobs in their press release. The residents here need this tier of jobs, but they need more full-time than part-time. I want to find a way to encourage business in Midvale to provide the kind of job infrastructure that the residents here need.
By having a place to work, shop, and live within a very short commute, this helps reduce the cost of transportation and reduces air pollution. Full-time jobs mean that less people are cheated out of their earned benefits by being forced to work two or more jobs at 29 hours a week with no health care or retirement plans. Do we really want to see our young parents working themselves to the bone at 58 hours a week when one medical bill can force them and their family out on the street? I don't think so. Corporations that employ more than 100 people should provide a standard of living that rewards their employees, instead of using them up like a resource. People are not fungible. You can't simply replace one person with another and expect the same outcome. People are individuals, with individual needs and ways in which they contribute. It is vital for a welcoming community and society to recognize and cherish the individuals that make up its citizenry, and recognize that they are humans, not machines.