Hundreds of Utah County residents met at Pioneer Park in Provo on a sunny and clear-skied Saturday morning before walking to the Utah County Health and Justice Building in solidarity with events throughout the world.

Provo’s Women’s March, just one of many women’s marches that took place across the country on Saturday, focused on topics organizers say are pertinent to women and LGBTQ+ individuals in the state, including sexual assault and access to health care.

Jorden Jackson, president of the Provo Women’s March, said normalizing sexual consent should be a top priority for people in Utah.

“Rape is the only violent crime in Utah that is above the national average,” said Jackson. “All other violent crimes are below.”

According to the Utah Department of Health, Utah’s reported rape rate in 2018 was 55.5 per 100,000 adults while the national average was 42.6 per 100,000 adults.

Brigham Young University freshman Emma Wilkinson said she showed up to the march because she knows someone who was raped and wanted to show support for others who had gone through the same thing.

The Women’s March “kind of just shows us that we’re all in this together,” Wilkinson said. “That we’re not alone in these issues and that other people are facing the same things as us.”

Erin Tapahe, who is program manager of BYU American Indian Studies, spoke about violence faced by Native American women in Utah.

A 2018 report from the Urban Indian Health Institute found that there were 24 cases of missing and murdered Indigenous women in Utah, making it the 8th highest state in the county for such cases.

“The culture we live in needs to change,” Tapahe said. “It is not safe for Native women. Protecting Indigenous women and girls should not be a controversial topic.”

Part of the problem, Tapahe said, is that tribal courts have no jurisdictional power over non-Natives. Therefore, crimes committed by non-Natives on tribal land can only be prosecuted by the federal government.

“But how often do you think the FBI becomes involved in these cases?” said Tapahe.

The Women’s March was not solely focused on issues that impact women. Former BYU student Kris Irvin, who said they identify as transmasculine nonbinary, spoke about difficulties faced by transgender Utahns and people like them who “don’t fit the gender binary,” such as finding acceptance in a socially conservative state.

“I have struggled with gender dysphoria my entire life,” Irvin said. “But I didn’t know how to talk about it.”

Another struggle, Irvin said, was when they decided to try to get a breast-removal surgery. At the time, Irvin’s health insurance provider did not cover the procedure or “transgender-related health care of any kind.”

Irvin was able to have the surgery last July after their health care provider adjusted its policy, they said. The procedure changed Irvin’s life.

“I no longer have the crushing depression that I was desperately trying to survive.” Irvin said. “I look forward to life and to living. I’ve become an optimistic person.”

But transgender Utahns still face challenges, Irvin said. They mentioned a bill being drafted by Rep. Brad Daw, R-Orem, that would ban hormone therapies for transgender minors.

“For whatever reason, some people don’t want gender non-conforming people to have access to surgeries or medication that can literally save lives,” said Irvin.

Dozens of men were present at Saturday’s rally, including Tony Shade, a senior studying psychology at Utah Valley University. Shade said it is important for men “to show solidarity with the plight and oppression of women” by showing up to rallies and voicing support.

Milan Cook said it is important for women of all political alignments and backgrounds to feel like they have a voice at marches and rallies.

Cook said she was marching to “let women around here know that there is a community for them.”

Connor Richards covers government, the environment and south Utah County for the Daily Herald. He can be reached at crichards@heraldextra.com and 801-344-2599.

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