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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, February 7 2014 - Volume 42 Issue 06
43 LGBT activists arrested in Idaho
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43 LGBT activists arrested in Idaho

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

Idaho police arrested 43 LGBT rights activists in the Idaho Senate on February 3, after the demonstrators shut down the state's Senate for two hours. They now face misdemeanor trespassing charges, punishable by up to six months in jail, and a $1,000 fine.

The activists had been standing silently with their hands over their mouths, the Boise Spokesman-Review said, blocking every entrance to the Senate chambers. They wore black T-shirts that read 'Add the 4 Words.'

The words in question are 'sexual orientation' and 'gender identity,' and the protest hoped to call attention to a pending bill to include those categories to Idaho's civil rights laws, which already ban discrimination in employment, housing, and public accommodations on the basis of race, religion, and disability.

Protestors began arriving at the Idaho capitol building about 8 a.m., and police were summoned to remove them at 11 a.m. when State President Pro Tem Brent Hill was blocked from entering the chamber.

According to the Associated Press, Hill, a Republican, had informed Democratic sponsors of the 'Add the 4 Words' bill that the measure would not get a committee hearing this year. It has also been denied a hearing in eight previous sessions.

Among those arrested was former state Sen. Nicole LeFavour, the Idaho Legislature's first openly Lesbian lawmaker and an organizer of the protest.

Before the demonstration, she told AP that the group would block the entrances until lawmakers agreed to give the 'Add the 4 Words' bill a hearing or until they were removed by authorities.

After she was released, LeFavour said she was treated respectfully by law enforcement.

'We have no issue with police,' she said. 'Our issue is with a Legislature that won't stand up and say 'cruelty to gay, lesbian and transgender people is wrong.'

Not all the demonstrators were veteran activists, however.

Meredith Butts, an 18-year-old Boise High School student, told AP she got involved after seeing her friends face discrimination for their sexual orientation.

'I want people who are my age and people who are younger - really, anyone - to not have to hide who they are to prevent harm to themselves,' she said, adding that arrest would not deter her.

After she was cited and released shortly before noon, Hilary Rayhill told Spokesman-Review reporters the arrest had been worth it. 'Sure - they weren't listening otherwise,' she said. 'We've got to do something.'

During the standoff, reporters asked 74-year-old protester Lee Taylor, a disabled Navy veteran, how far she was willing to go with her protest. Speaking with her hand still covering her mouth, Taylor said, 'Boot 'em all out of office and find someone who'll listen, I guess.'

That might be the only alternative, since the Republican Senate leadership gave little evidence of willingness to consider the 'Add the 4 Words' measure.

'We respect your right to protest, but we also have the right to do the job people elected us to do,' Senate President Hill told protesters before police intervened, adding it was 'irresponsible' of them to block the hearing room.

'Those are the chambers, and they belong to all the people, not just this group,' he said.

Another Republican legislator, Rep. Lynn Luker, has introduced legislation this session to expand Idaho's religious freedom law to include protections for people who refuse to do business with others on religious grounds.

Luker cited cases in other states of business people who have faced penalties for discrimination, including a New Mexico wedding photographer who refused to photograph a same-sex marriage. Luker's bill is pending in a House committee.

Meanwhile, a lawsuit challenging Idaho's ban on same-sex marriage is pending in federal court.

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