Hearing attempts to change Hearts and Minds of Lawmakers

Photo courtesy of Ben Wilson.

Photo courtesy of Ben Wilson.

Members of Idaho’s House and Senate State Affairs committees met this morning to hear from supporters of Idaho’s long overdue “Add the Words” bill. Though Senate State Affairs Committee Chairman Curt McKenzie and Senate President ProTem Brent Hill have both said there will be no action on the legislation this year, organizers say the informational hearing could pave the way for future support.

During the roughly hour meeting, members of the committees heard from a mixture of civic, business and private leaders. Retired HP general manager Don Curtis, who also chairs the Idaho Human Rights Education Center’s advisory board, told the panel that his former company’s anti-discrimination policy, which includes sexual orientation and gender identity, was rolled out seamlessly and has since added extreme value to the company’s corporate culture.

A current HP hiring manager shared her experiences with the policy and pointed to a transgender employee’s personal journey as proof that such policies are effective.

Add the Words, Idaho head Mistie Tolman shared her story as a gay mother raising her children in a straight world. “The simple question before you today is whether gay and transgender Idahoans must continue to live as second-class citizens,” she challenged.

Boise Police Chief Mike Masterson testified that since Boise adopted its anti-discrimination ordinance in January, there have been no incidences reported, but he also pointed to the lack of protections in Idaho as a possible  cause and effect, “People aren’t reporting crimes because they fear being outed to their employers,” he told them.

Clark Krause, Executive Director of the  Boise Valley Economic Partnership told the lawmakers that anti-discrimination policies like the ones that have been adopted in Boise and a handful of other cities,”bring the jobs to Idaho.”

“Businesses expect their employees to be safe,” Krause told the Committees. “Discrimination just plain bad for business”.

Still, it’s hard to say what impact the meeting had on the committee members. This is the 7th year supporters have been denied a public hearing and full vote on the measure, some say they are frustrated by the lawmakers in action.

Idaho Senator Chuck Winder told the crowd gathered inside the capital auditorium that he “struggles” with anti-discrimination legislation. President  Brent Hill said he feels that the issue of discrimination was “a matter of the heart, not a matter of statute.”

Former Idaho State Senator Nicole Lefavour took to her facebook to suggest perhaps the issue would find more support among members of the house,”We as gay & transgender Idahoans CAN NOT let them make it so easy to force is to wait ANOTHER year for the dignity of inclusion in the state fair employment, housing & education laws, she wrote.

You can contact the members of the House State Affairs Committee at  208-332-1145 or by emailing them at hstaf@house.idaho.gov . Contact the members of the Senate State Affairs Committee at sstaf@senate.idaho.gov or by calling 208-332-1326 and ask them to reconsider their actions.

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Opinion: Tell Idaho Lawmakers it’s past time to “Add the Words!”

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I’ll never forget the first time I took part in any sort of lobbying at the capital building.  It was during the 2006 legislative session. A handful of Twin Falls residents drove up to Boise to beg lawmakers not to pass a bill that effectively would become a constitutional amendment banning same-gender marriages.

There were ten or so of us gathered on the steps capital steps amidst a sea of red balloons, each representing a different Idaho county. Throughout the day lawmakers came and went, some smiled, some scowled but most simply ignored us.

One  lawmaker in particular though drove a message home that I’ve never, ever forgotten. He came over to our balloons and asked me what they were for. I explained it to him and then asked if we could count on his support. His eyes narrowed and his voice, which had  previously carried an amical tone,  lowered to a whispering growl, “You listen to me, you might as well pack it up and go away.  As long as my colleagues and I are members of this body you people will never have any rights, you hear me? Ever!”

He walked away leaving me to wonder just what it was about “us people” that had made him so upset and so full of anger. Seven years later, his words not only still haunt me, but his emotional response still carries the obviously  intended sting. Every time I walk through the doors of that majestic marble building, I’m reminded that there are those inside those chambers that consider me something less than a full citizen.

Last year, as I set there watching the members of the Senate State Affairs Committee once again deny our plea to add the words “sexual orientation and gender identity” to the Idaho Human Rights Act, that lawmaker’s words rang out in my head.

“It’ll happen, one of these days,” I’m told by sympathetic supporters. “It’s just not the right year, yet.” Some say it’ll take more education, more talking, more explaining.  I tend to believe that after seven years of begging for our elected officials to look us in the eyes and to hear our stories, most, if not all by now, know full well what we are asking for. The right to full citizenship, without having to worry about whether or not we are going to lose our jobs, or be kicked out of our homes or kicked out of a cab because of our sexual orientation or gender identities is not a hard concept to grasp.

Later this morning a group of lawmakers will gather to hear from a small panel of experts and citizens on why they should “Add the Words.” The group will be made up of members from both  the House and Senate State Affairs committees. The hope from organizers is that it will give the committee members a chance to hear, in some of our own words, why the addition is so vitally important to our community.

While I’m glad we are getting the chance, I have another hope as well. It is my hope that as those committee members look out into the faces of those in the audience and out into the cameras that will be streaming the meeting across our great state, their hearts and minds will be filled with the realization that “we people” are just people, just like they are, with the same hopes and dreams, ambitions and fears, with the same love for state and country as any member of those hallowed halls.

Will our presence at the event change their minds? It could.

Will it  help to send the message that we believe that it’s long past time to recognize us as citizens? Maybe.

Will it it show them that we aren’t going away? Definitely.

Add the Words, Idaho organizers are encouraging community members to attend Wednesday morning’s meeting in order to silently show their support for the bill.  The”informal  presentation” is scheduled for this  morning at 8:00 am in the Lincoln Auditorium on the Capitol’s garden level. Those around the state can watch it live on IPTV by CLICKING HERE.

You can also contact Senate committee members and let them know that you support A FULL HEARING on the measure:

Sen. McKenzie: CMckenzie@senate.idaho.gov (208) 367-9400

Sen. Lodge: PALodge@senate.idaho.gov

Sen. Winder: CWinder@senate.idaho.gov (208) 343-2300

Sen. Fulcher: Rfulcher@senate.idaho.gov (208) 332-1340

Sen Davis: BMDavis@senate.idaho.gov (208) 522-8100

Sen. Hill: BHill@senate.idaho.gov (208) 356-3677

Sen. Siddoway (Contact him by Clicking HERE.)

Committee Chair: No Vote for Idaho’s “Add the Words” Bill

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The Chairman of the Senate State Affairs Committee appears to be ready to once again ignore the plight of Idaho’s LGBT community. For the seventh year in a row committee members are on the verge of going home without giving a bill that would add the words “sexual orientation or gender identity” to Idaho’s human rights amendment.

The bill would make it illegal in Idaho to discriminate against someone solely because of their sexual orientation or gender identity in cases of employment, housing or in other public amenities.

Senate State Affairs Committee Chairman Curt McKenzie tells the Idaho Statesman that, while some lawmakers felt “bad” for their votes last year,”no bill will be considered for introduction.”

The issue reached a near-tipping point with citizens last year, following the participation of thousands of supporters through out the state, but ultimately the bill  failed to gain enough votes in the committee to move forward.

Last month, state lawmakers were invited to attend a panel discussion to learn more about the bill. However, no Republicans and very few Democrats turned out for the lunch time presentation.

All may not be lost, however. For the first time ever, members of the Senate and House State Affairs committees are scheduled to hear an “informal presentation” regarding the measure.

McKenzie tells the Statesman,”out of respect for (Sen. Cherie) Buckner-Webb (the bill’s sponsor) he agreed to a 45 minute to one-hour presentation. Formal public testimony won’t be taken and opponents won’t be asked to speak. Buckner-Webb is organizing the event.”

Add the Words, Idaho organizers are encouraging community members to attend Wednesday morning’s meeting in order to silently show their support for the bill.  The”informal  presentation” is scheduled for this Wednesday morning at 8:00 am in the Lincoln Auditorium on the Capitol’s garden level.

You can also contact  committee members and let them know that you support the measure:

Sen. McKenzie: CMckenzie@senate.idaho.gov (208) 367-9400

Sen. Lodge: PALodge@senate.idaho.gov

Sen. Winder: CWinder@senate.idaho.gov (208) 343-2300

Sen. Fulcher: Rfulcher@senate.idaho.gov (208) 332-1340

Sen Davis: BMDavis@senate.idaho.gov (208) 522-8100

Sen. Hill: BHill@senate.idaho.gov (208) 356-3677

Sen. Siddoway (Contact him by Clicking HERE.)

Opinion: The Idaho Legislature’s Broken Record

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Those of us with a love for vinyl know just how horrifying it can be to be sitting there listening to your favorite hard-to-find rare imported LP, only to hear the same line of the song over and over and over again. The majority of us would call it a broken record. The Idaho Legislature calls it business as usual.

For the past six years now we’ve been asking our state lawmakers to at least hear out what it’s like to be an LGBT citizen of Idaho. In those six years not once have we been granted that opportunity.

Earlier this month, lawmakers were invited to hear from a panel of respected businessmen, politicians, a pastor, a human rights expert and a constitutional scholar.  It was their chance to at least learn of the positive impact that adding the words “gender identity and sexual orientation” to the state’s Human Rights Act could have. Very few found the topic important enough to attend.

Every year it’s the same exact broken record over and over and over again.

It’s the song of people like State Senator Jim Rice, (R-Caldwell), who told the Idaho Press Tribune last weekend that, ” the ‘add the words’  legislation wasn’t needed.” “All it does is create litigation that isn’t necessary,” Rice told the paper. “Most people aren’t doing that (discrimination) anyway.”

It’s the song of Idaho Governor Butch Otter who remains silent on the issue despite the growing evidence that discrimination is harming our state both image wise and economically.

It’s the song of many among the Idaho press corps who, though they support the effort privately, trade access for responsibility and cover the issue as if it were a mere controversy, rather than a matter of basic human rights.

Meanwhile, we as a community sit and listen, hoping that at some point someone will get up and move the needle.

Aren’t we tired of hearing the same broken record over and over and over again?

Aren’t we tired of being told we aren’t a legislative ” priority” or that it “just wasn’t in the cards this year”?

At some point, this session, lawmakers will once again be asked to “add the words.” The question is will this be the year that we finally get them to change their tune?

Few lawmakers turn out for Idaho Human Rights discussion

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For a legislative session that so far has been grappling with such subjects  like adding “Atlas Shrugged” to the list of high school graduation requirements, making it a mandate to teach cursive and the all important task of naming an auditorium, one would think that perhaps more than a handful of lawmakers could add the task of making sure every Idaho citizen has the same rights and opportunities to their priority list.

If a panel discussion at the capital on Wednesday gives any indication though, that doesn’t appear to be the case.

The discussion, hosted by Sen. Cherie Buckner-Webb and Rep. Grant Burgoyne, both Boise democrats, drew a large crowd inside the auditorium but glaringly missing, despite being invited by the event’s hosts, were lawmakers with an R- attached to their title.

From the outset panel members agreed that including sexual orientation and gender identity to the Human Rights Act was a non-partisan issue. In fact, national polls on the subject seem to indicate that the gap between republicans and democrats is rapidly closing when it comes to ensuring the rights of all citizens.

Part of the goal of the discussion was to give lawmakers a chance to learn about the topic without all the hyperbole that has typically surrounded the amendment-a major objection from many lawmakers in past years.

Wednesday’s panel featured a wide range of experts including the director of the Human Rights Commission, the director of the Boise Valley Economic Partnership, a pastor, a city council president, a private business owner and a constitutional scholar, not exactly what one would call a liberal bastion of LGBT apologists.

The lack of interest in learning about the issue, while extremely troublesome, shouldn’t really surprise us. This is the same body that has for the past six years refused to give the issue a public hearing. What is surprising, however, is how little lawmakers seem to care about a subject that seems to have reached the tipping point across the state.

KTVB-TV reports that the station “reached out to all Republican members of that committee, (The Senate State Affairs Committee), today, but were unable to speak with any of them to see if this legislation will be viewed differently this year compared to years past.”

Sen. Buckner-Webb and Rep. Burgoyne plan to reintroduce the legislation sometime this session.

KBOI-TV reports,”Democrats say they’ll continue to try and convince their Republican colleagues now is the time to amend Idaho Human Rights Act.”

So far no  specific date has been set for the bill’s introduction.

(You can keep up to date on the legislation effort as well as find out how you can help put the issue on lawmakers priority lists by clicking HERE.)

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