By JOSH LOFTIN
SALT LAKE CITY – Rep. Jackie Biskupski, the first openly gay state legislator in Utah history, resigned this week after spending 13 years fighting for gay rights and trying to break down bias among other lawmakers.
“The most rewarding work has been for social justice,” Biskupski said. “It’s a big part of me, and why I wanted to get elected.”
Biskupski said she resigned because she bought a house outside her district that is better suited to raising her adopted 15-month-old son. She plans to stay in Salt Lake City and is considering a run for mayor in 2015.
Biskupski faced an onslaught of fliers attacking her sexual orientation when she first ran for the Utah House in 1998.
The Democrat won her district in the heart of Salt Lake City one of the most liberal in the state by an almost 2-to-1 margin but still faced opposition in the Legislature, where she said some lawmakers “couldn’t even look me in the eye.”
That has changed, however, especially after two other gay Democrats joined her in the Legislature. But neither stayed as long as Biskupski. With her departure the Legislature is without a gay lawmaker.
House Minority Leader David Litvack, D-Salt Lake City, said Biskupski has been a mentor to many legislators and provided an important voice.
“She has a tremendous job standing up for her constituents, fighting for her values and principles, fighting for what is just,” Litvack said.
Like many Democrats in the Republican-dominated House, Biskupski got few of her own bills passed during her time. She was unsuccessful with legislation that would have legalized civil unions. Meanwhile, a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage easily passed the Legislature in 2004, despite her pleas for people to oppose it.
She did succeed in 2005, with a measure giving midwives greater freedom to deliver babies.
Biskupski spent much of her time, particularly as a member of the House Rules Committee, working to kill or modify bills she opposed.
Still, her ability to work with other legislators, on both sides of the aisle, helped win her respect among colleagues, said House Speaker Becky Lockhart, R-Provo.
“Despite her being in the minority, she became very good at working behind the scenes to get legislation passed that was important to her constituents,” Lockhart said in a statement. “I count her as one of my legislative friends and wish her the best of luck.”
Although she doesn’t plan to get involved in the election to replace her, she hoped her successor will be gay so the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual community would still have a voice.
“It means so much to have somebody sitting on the House or Senate floor who can articulate their views from a personal standpoint, because so much that happens up here is negative for the LGBT community,” she said.