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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, April 18 2014 - Volume 42 Issue 16
Effort to add four words sparks activist wave in Idaho
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Effort to add four words sparks activist wave in Idaho

by Victor Bogatko - SGN Contributing Writer

If you call Seattle home, it's probably difficult for you to imagine a place where you can be fired for being Gay. Or where you can be denied a roof over your head simply because you are perceived to "look or act Gay." If you're like most Americans, you probably think this sort of discrimination is already illegal in the United States and you might be wondering what sort of backwards part of the world we are talking about.

Unfortunately, if you're a member of the LGBT community, you probably already know that though it is illegal in many states to discriminate based on sexual orientation or gender identity, the majority of states do not have such laws protecting the LGBT community.

Just a couple hundred miles east of Seattle exists a place where LGBT discrimination in housing and employment are perfectly legal - a state called Idaho. Aside from a few forward thinking towns with anti-discrimination ordinances in place, the majority of the state offers no protections.

Fortunately, change is in the forecast for the Gem State. This is because a courageous group of activists, organizers, and volunteers is speaking up and acting out on behalf of LGBT Idahoans across the state.

Add The Words, Idaho is an LGBT activist group advocating adding the four words "sexual orientation" and "gender identity" to the state's human rights act. The group formed in 2010 out of several smaller groups that have been advocating for LGBT protections for nearly a decade. After eight years, however, a proposed bill to "add the words" has never even been allowed to be filed by the Republican controlled legislature.

This year the group has decided to accelerate their movement, citing 81% of Idahoans who think people shouldn't be fired from work for being Gay or Transgender. On February 3rd, under the leadership of former State Senator Nicole LeFavour, a group of peaceful protestors called "Add the 4 Words" filled the state capitol in a peaceful protest insisting Idaho's legislature finally add the words to Idaho's Human Rights Act.

That day, 44 protesters were arrested on suspicion of trespassing, including LeFavour. In a press release, the group stated that "Gay and transgender Idahoans have tried every means to get the legislature to consider the "Add the Words" legislation. If the legislature again chooses to ignore us and not hear or vote on the bill, we are prepared to peacefully remain here to bring attention to the issue."

A week later, a second demonstration of at least 65 people was held on February 13th. Protesters silently filled the Statehouse rotunda after being refused entry into the Senate and House galleries. No arrests were made. Days later, a third demonstration of about 200 people was held at the Statehouse on February 17th, filling multiple rotunda floors, without any arrests. A total of five demonstrations were held in February, with 192 arrests.

Last winter, a special session was granted and representatives from the LGBT and business community were allowed to tell the legislature why the human rights act amendment was important. Despite personal invitations, no Republican legislators were in attendance and the bill to amend the human rights act was once again denied.

Idaho's defiant governor was also unwilling to listen. Instead, he chose to mock the group by telling them to "create their own forum and then invite" Republican legislators to it. He also called the demonstrations counterproductive, costly, and disruptive. "I always understand the frustration," he said. "The question here now is, are they starting to hurt their own cause?"

Despite such intense opposition and indifference, advocates remain hopeful and persistent. "There has been a huge turning point in public opinion and recent developments are encouraging," says Mistie Tolman, spokesperson for Add the Words. "Discussions with leadership hint to a hearing next year, so we are preparing for that and trying to spread the word even more."

Eight consecutive legislative sessions have passed since activists began working on adding protections for LGBT Idahoans. A very long time, but activists are determined to win this fight. "If we need to, there will be a ninth year and there will be a 10th year. We'll keep coming back. We're not going away until we right this wrong," says Tolman.

Indeed, signs of a turning point are sprouting up all over Idaho as more cities pass non-discrimination ordinances and more people become aware of "Add the Words" - four words that could prevent young Idahoans from knowing that they could be fired from work or denied a place to live because of their "sexual orientation" or "gender identity."

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