SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Jackie Biskupski was sworn in Monday as Salt Lake City’s first openly gay mayor, a landmark the former state lawmaker acknowledged shortly after taking the oath of office.
Biskupski, 49, said the historic moment should not be taken lightly, and noted great strides have been made for LGBT people in the state.
“I know that we have work to do still. And it is work that I take seriously,” she told reporters. “But I am a firm believer that in order for true equality to exist for anyone, we must pursue it for everyone, and that is a goal of mine.”
In a speech on the steps of the city-county building after being sworn in, Biskupski cited a gay rights battle in Utah’s capital city two decades ago that spurred her to enter politics.
After the city’s East High School formed the state’s first gay-straight alliance club in 1995, the Salt Lake City School District banned all noncurricular clubs to try to block it. The district reversed its decision several years later after lawsuits and protests.
“That sparked in me a responsibility to my own community,” Biskupski said Monday.
Biskupski said that when she became Utah’s first openly gay lawmaker in 1998, she found common ground to work with people with different ideologies and cultures. She struck a similar note in her speech, pivoting to air quality and economic development. She has said she plans to work on both issues with the conservative, Salt Lake City-based Mormon church.
Her ascension to the mayor’s office comes on the heels of new rules by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints targeting gay members and their children. The new policy, which prompted widespread backlash, bans baptisms for children of gay parents until the kids turn 18 and disavow same-sex relationships.
Biskupski is not a member of the faith and said she hopes the church reconsiders the policy. After her election results were certified, she met with church officials in December and gave them a letter explaining her concerns about the policy. But Biskupski’s campaign said the meeting was largely a discussion about city issues such as air quality and economic development.
LGBT issues also didn’t define the tight race between Biskupski and incumbent Ralph Becker. Salt Lake City is a liberal island in the state where no Republican has been elected mayor in four decades. Becker, a prominent Democrat, also was seen as an ally of the city’s strong LGBT community, and the gay rights group Equality Utah endorsed both candidates.
While the mayor’s race centered more on issues such as bike lanes and billboards, LGBT activists celebrated Biskupski’s win as a milestone in the conservative state.
During the campaign and after her victory, Biskupski reflected on how the LGBT-movement had progressed in Utah since she was first elected to the state House. She said that at the time, several of her colleagues in the Legislature wouldn’t look her in the eye or shake her hand.
Biskupski served in the House until 2011. After that, she worked in the Salt Lake County Sheriff’s Office.
Along with Biskupski, new Salt Lake City councilman Derek Kitchen was sworn in Monday, becoming the city’s second sitting gay councilman.
Kitchen and his husband, Moudi Sbeity, were one of three couples who sued to overturn the state’s same-sex marriage ban.
New Salt Lake City councilman Andrew Johnston and incumbent councilman Charlie Luke also were sworn in Monday.