Bullied Teen’s Father Walking through Idaho to make a Change

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When Joe Bell’s son passed away last February, he decided that no child should ever have to endure the bullying that drove his  15-year-old son to take his own life. Rather than let Jadin Bell be remembered as simply yet another victim of teen bullying, Bell decided to share his son’s story with the rest of the country, one mile at a time. On April 22nd, he begin his 5000 mile cross-country trek to do just that, on foot.

The Le Grand father will be making his way through Idaho for the next week or so, speaking wherever and whenever he can about the issue. His  goal is to not only draw attention to the problem of bullying itself, but also to spark real conversations that will, hopefully, lead to real change.

Jadin, a High School sophomore, hung himself at a Le Grande school earlier this year, after enduring months of bullying because of his sexuality. The teen was taken to a Portland hospital, where he passed away on February 3rd. Bell tells the Le Grand Observer that those who knew about the bullying, yet didn’t speak up, are part of a national problem, “When a child is bullied there are usually a lot witnesses. Not doing anything is not acceptable,” Bell said. “(Those who watch and do nothing) are just as guilty. They are saying that it is acceptable.”

Beyond putting up anti-bullying posters and giving lip service to the issue, getting Idaho to  really talk about the problem is going to be difficult. Idaho lawmakers have refused to strengthen anti-bullying measures in recent years. In 2011,  The Center for Preventing Hate released a disturbing report regarding bullying and harassment among Pocatello’s high school students. The report found, among other things, common slurs like “whore” and “fag” along with more extreme ones like “ni–er” and “c-nt” are reportedly used daily. (Read more on that HERE.) Anecdotal evidence suggests despite an increased awareness regarding the problem, the issue still isn’t being adequately addressed, especially in Idaho’s more rural areas where sexuality and gender identity are often still seen as “taboo” subjects.

A U.S. government study, titled Report of the Secretary’s Task Force on Youth Suicide, published in 1989, found that LGBTQIA youth are four times more likely to attempt suicide than other young people. Currently, Idaho has the fourth highest suicide rate in the nation. Studies have shown that those who have been bullied and or harassed at school can be affected by the actions well into their adult years.

Bell, who quit his job at Boise Cascade in order to make his two-year journey, is planning on speaking at schools, community events and impromptu gatherings wherever he is welcomed. He will also be telling folks about Faces for Change, a foundation which was, the Observer notes, “established in Jadin’s memory to promote anti-bullying programs.”

Bell is currently walking in the Treasure Valley area.  Anyone in Idaho who would like to walk with him, set up a back yard meet-and-greet or just encourage him is welcomed to do so. You can find out his location and more on the Faces for Change Facebook page or you can also call his cell phone at 541-786-8299. You can learn more about Faces for Change at the Foundation’s website by clicking HERE.

Watch Bell’s interview with KATU-TV below:

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Pocatello rallies for Non-Discrimination Ordinance

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Photo courtesy of Josh Rahl

The passage of an anti-discrimination ordinance in Pocatello maybe still to close to call, but  that doesn’t mean its supporters are just  sitting around waiting for a final vote.

City council members heard from dozens of supporters of the ordinance last week during a public testimony meeting.  According to the Chair of the Human Relations Advisory Committee for the city of Pocatello and a key supporting figure of the law, Susie Matsuura, approximately 200 residents turned out last Thursday to hear testimony and speak in favor of the ordinance that would ban discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity in housing, employment and public accommodations.

“Just the numbers of people who turned out last night took my breath away, and their impassioned testimony – oh my. I can’t think of the words to praise them for their bravery and passion in coming forward to share a very personal part of their lives,” said Matsuura in a press release.

Matsuura said she “urges all to thank the Pocatello City Council and Mayor for the opportunity to speak out on this important issue. The city leaders took the time to really hear the voices and see the “beating hearts” of some of their most vulnerable constituents.”

During the meeting State Senator Roy Lacey, D-District 29, spoke in favor of the ordinance, telling the council members he believed the measure would benefit the community as a whole.

Former city council woman and state representative, Donna Boe, also spoke. She said she empathized with the council as they deliberate their decision, but she encouraged them to view the measure favorably.

The meeting was filled with several emotional moments. Despite the fact that  they could lose their jobs and their housing,  four residents “came out” publicly for the first time to support the measure, including Gloria Mayer, a 63-year old grandma.  Mayer noted, “I am gay. That is the first time I have said that publicly. It is not that I’m embarrassed to be gay. But I have always felt that who I love is nobody’s business. ‘Sometimes you have to stand up for what you believe in,’ so here I am.”

Following the meeting, supporters were encouraged to send notes of thanks to the city council members.  A Facebook group set up to keep citizens informed about the ordinance is also encouraging folks to show their support by taking the following steps:

1. Plan to come to the next city council meeting on April 18, city hall, 6 p.m., earlier if you want to get a seat — they need to see our beating hearts and see our faces — AGAIN. We are real people with lives.

2. Write letters and emails, even very short ones that just say, “pass the ordinance” to the city council and if you want, the mayor.

3. Make one-on-one appointments with Councilmen Jim Johnston and Steve Brown. Let them hear from you, your personal story.

You can learn more about the ordinance and the group HERE.

Number 4: Moscow, Idaho Passes LGBT Non-Discrimination Ordinance!

Moscow, Idaho

The Moscow City Council has voted 6-0 to approve a measure that prohibits discrimination in the areas of housing and employment based on an individual’s sexual orientation or gender identity. According to Jim Huggins, head of GetEQUAL Idaho, the measure passed the council Monday night with no discussion.

Moscow joins Sandpoint, Boise, and Ketchum in banning LGBT discrimination within city limits.

Even though four cities have passed similar measures , that still leaves about one-sixth of the state’s population unprotected by any sort of sexual orientation or gender identity anti-discrimination ordinance or law. For the seventh year in a row, the Idaho Legislature declined to consider a similar statewide measure.

The City of Pocatello will be holding a public hearing regarding its purposed non-discrimination ordinance later this week. According to the City Council’s agenda,”time has been set aside for the Council to receive comments from the public regarding a proposed ordinance enacting a new section to the Pocatello Municipal Code, Title 9 chapter 36, to prohibit discriminatory acts in housing, employment and public accommodations upon sexual orientation and gender identity /expression.”

The council meeting is set for Thursday, April 4th at 6:00 pm, at the City Council Chambers, located at 911 N. 7th Ave in Pocatello. Click HERE to find out more.

Watch: Edie Windsor following the DOMA Arguments

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If there’s any doubt that Edie Windsor is a prime candidate for equality iconicism this should clear that right up…

From her legal team:

Showdown at the Supreme Court Day 2: DOMA

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It was back to court for same-gender marriage this morning. While yesterday’s Prop 8 arguments focused on the rights of those who want to be married, the DOMA challenge is more concerned with those who have already tied the knot.

At the heart of United States vs. Windsor is a powerful love story and the fight for equal protections and fair treatment under federal law. A victorious ruling could have a major impact on all 50 states, with a broader ruling leaving states with anti-gay marriage laws, like Idaho, in a legal quagmire.

“Edith Windsor is a New York woman in her eighties who married Thea Speyer, her same-sex partner of 40 years, in Canada six years ago. In 2009, Speyer passed away, leaving her entire estate to Windsor who was slapped with a $363,000 tax bill. If it hadn’t been for DOMA, the 1996 law that defined marriage at the federal level as the union between a man and a woman, she wouldn’t have had to pay any taxes. So she reached out to some gay and lesbian advocacy groups, found a lawyer willing to start the fight, won the support of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), and filed suit in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York in 2011,” the Atlantic reports.

Signed into law in 1996 by then President Bill Clinton, DOMA singles out lawfully married same-sex couples for unequal treatment under federal law. According to the law allows states not only to refuse to recognize valid civil marriages of same gender couples, Section 3 removes the couples out of all federal statutes, regulations, and rulings applicable to all other married people—thereby denying them over 1,100 federal benefits and protections.

The issue has divided the branches of government in recent years. As ABC News reports,”The Obama administration has argued that DOMA should be overturned, while House Republicans have stepped in to defend it, tasking the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group (BLAG) with arguing for DOMA in federal court.”

It is the third section of the act, the section that denies benefits to same gender couples, that attorneys arguing before the Supreme Court are focused on. According to UPI,”Section 3, which is targeted, says, “In determining the meaning of any act of  Congress, or of any ruling, regulation, or interpretation of the various  administrative bureaus and agencies of the United States, the word ‘marriage’  means only a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife, and  the word ‘spouse’ refers only to a person of the opposite sex who is a husband  or a wife.”

As the Washington Post reports, the Justices are possibly dealing with three issues when it comes to the DOMA challenge,”The first is the equal protection issue, which is much the same in content as in the Proposition 8 case. The second is whether the fact that the executive branch agrees with Windsor means that there isn’t a real controversy in this case, meaning the court doesn’t have jurisdiction. The third is whether BLAG would be harmed by DOMA being overturned, and thus whether it has standing to defend the law (a friend-of-the-court brief by Harvard professor Vicki Jackson argues that even Congress doesn’t have standing, and even if it did, BLAG wouldn’t).”

So what could the possible outcomes be? As we saw from the arguments yesterday, there are some Justices who appear to be reluctant to tackle the gay marriage issue at all, but since they have it’s highly unlikely that they will choose to forgo making any sort of rulings.

1. The Court could simply strike DOMA off the books. As Erin Fuchs, a reporter for Business Insider summarizes,”That would mean that the federal government would recognize same-sex marriage in  the nine states where it’s already legal. In practical terms, gays could get the  same federal tax breaks straight couples do, like not having to pay an estate  tax.

2.The Court could uphold DOMA, Which would mean,”the status quo of gay couples being denied federal benefits would continue.  Congress could ultimately try to do away with the law but that might be a  long shot in an age of partisan gridlock.”

3. The Court may decide to deal with only the third section of the law and apply their ruling to those states nine states that already offer same-gender marriage. Such a ruling would still create a legal challenge for couples living in states like Idaho, but the Justices would be able to stall having to deal with the larger “elephant in the room” for a few more years.

According to Reuters,”The decision by Obama to abandon the legal defense of the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) called into question his willingness to defend other laws passed by Congress and challenged in court, several conservative justices said.”

During this morning’s arguments,”Chief Justice John Roberts pressed government lawyer Sri Srinivasan on how the government will now decide which laws to defend. “What is your test?” Roberts asked.”

“Obama and his attorney general, Eric Holder, said in February 2011 they would cease defending the law because they believed it to be invalid under the U.S. Constitution,” reports the news agency.

But beyond that, there were some positive signs coming from the Justices. According to The Hill,”Justice Anthony Kennedy, the court’s swing vote, seemed to agree with the  argument that DOMA interferes with states’ traditional right to define marriage.”

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