Idaho’s Senator Chuck Winder blows More Hot Air

Cuck Winder

You might recall Idaho State Senator Chuck Winder from last year’s legislative session. The Boise Republican not only sponsored a  measure that would have required women to get an ultrasound before choosing an abortion, but he also not-so-subtly suggested that women were using rape as an excuse in order to undergo the procedure.  His comments sparked a national protest and, thankfully, the bill was defeated.

Sadly, it appears Winder is still full of a lot of hot air. The Boise Weekly reports that on Monday, which marked the ACLU-of Idaho’s Citizen Lobby Day, Winder told a group of high school students trying to discuss the problem of school bullying that he not only believed that “Homosexuality is a choice” but “that he didn’t believe there was a discrimination issue against the LGBT community.”

Not only is the state senator wrong, he’s dead wrong.

Licensed psychotherapist Dr. Allan Schwartz points out , while little is known about why some people are born with certain sexual orientation, the fact is major research runs absolutely contrary to Winder’s “belief”.

In areas of genetic research, Schwartz writes,”During the 1990’s evidence was found that a gene could be the root cause of homosexuality. More recently, both the X and Y chromosomes have been investigated to determine the causes of homosexuality. The Y chromosome is passed from the father to the son and it is this Y chromosome that determined the sex of the baby. All of these studies have been successful to the extent that they have found genetic factors to be the cause of homosexuality in fifty to sixty percent of the populations studied.”

Along the same biological lines, Schwartz  says,”A very recent study found that mothers who had given birth to several male children are more likely to have a son born who will be gay. It is thought that something happened in the mother’s uterus after she delivered her older children that altered the fetus of the last child in a way that makes him gay.”

Schwartz, along with every other credible expert on the subject within the last 30 or so years, reaches the conclusion that Winder, a local career politician, is obviously clueless to when it comes to the evidence regarding sexual orientation.

“As a result of everything I have read, learned and experienced as a mental health worker, I long ago concluded that homosexuality is not a matter of choice. Instead, it seems quite clear to me that there is a combination of genetic and biological factors that cause people to become gay,” Dr. Schwartz writes.

All Winder has to do was listen to the dozens of  personal stories told to the Boise City Council last December to know that discrimination against LGBT individuals is not only a very real problem, it continues to play out in the streets, towns and businesses throughout much of the state. He chose not to attend that City Council meeting, however.

As for bullying, according to a study published last year by the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network (GLSEN),”The most common forms of biased language in elementary schools, heard regularly (i.e., sometimes, often or all the time) by both students and teachers, are the use of the word “gay” in a negative way, such as “that’s so gay,” (students: 45%, teachers: 49%) and comments like “spaz” or “retard” (51% of students, 45% of teachers). Many also report regularly hearing students make homophobic remarks, such as “fag” or “lesbo” (students: 26%, teachers: 26%) and negative comments about race/ethnicity (students: 26%, teachers: 21%).”

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.

According to last year’s Idaho Youth Risk Behavior Survey, out of 1,702  students in 48 public high schools in Idaho, 22.8 percent reported being bullied or harassed on school property.

Winder has also apparently drawn the ire of the marijuana legalization crowd as well. According to the Boise Weekly,”Winder’s Facebook page began overflowing with commentary” regarding two resolutions that seek to strengthen Idaho’s pot prohibition laws.

Senate Concurrent Resolution 112 seeks to state the Idaho Legislature’s opposition to the legalization of marijuana for any purpose in the State of Idaho, while Senate Joint Memorial 101 calls upon President Barack Obama, the U.S. Department of Justice and Congress “to take appropriate action to ensure that federal drug-free policy is upheld in all states,” writes the Weekly’s Andrew Crisp.

You can contact Winder at 208-332-1307  or email him at c.winder@senate.idaho.gov

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?

Idaho’s “Add The Words” bill To be Reintroduced this Session

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For the seventh time in as many years, Idaho lawmakers will once again be asked to amend the state’s Human Rights Act to include the words “sexual orientation and gender identity.”

Sen. Cherie Buckner-Webb, (D) Boise, told KBOI-TV on Monday that she’s prepared to sponsor the measure this session. The language of the bill would be similar to last year’s proposed amendment, with a few minor changes.

The “Add the Words” 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.

Idaho’s LGBT community has been trying to gain a public hearing for the bill for the past seven years.  Despite positing hundreds of sticky notes from citizens across Idaho, as well as heavy turn out at rallies in 14 cities during a day of action, last January, GOP lawmakers once again told the community, “no”.

But Buckner-Webb appears hopeful that, with three Idaho cities having passed their own non-discrimination ordinances and two cities banning discrimination against gay employees, Idaho maybe at the tipping point when it comes to securing the rights of ALL of its citizens.

“One thing Idahoans care about is fairness,” Sen. Buckner-Webb tells KBOI-TV. “Fairness and equity. Not special rights. Fairness and equity. That’s what we’re interested in.”

No word yet on when exactly the bill will be introduced.

Meanwhile, one of the groups that was most visible during the last legislative session is planning on taking more of an educational approach to the issue this year, while still maintaining the pressure on lawmakers.

Misitie Tolman with Add The Words, Idaho told the Idaho Agenda on Monday that the group plans to be active throughout the session, “We are getting to know the new legislators this year, and we have events planned, so please be watching!  (You can “like” us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter)  This discussion must be had.  It is time that an open dialogue is had inside the walls of that statehouse, and we will not give up until all Idahoans are given protections. ”

One of those actions will be to thank the Boise City Council for the recent passage of its non-discrimination ordinance.

According to a recent press release, “Add the Words, Idaho will be presenting the council with plaques as their way of thanking them for stepping forward as leaders of equality. The plaques were generously donated by Western Trophy & Engraving, Inc. The group also has hundreds of names to present on their signature “Sticky Notes” of people who want to show their thanks to the Council as well.”

The event will take place on Tuesday, January 29th, scheduled at the beginning of the Boise City Council meeting at 4:00pm.

Add the Words, Idaho to hold “Cookie Day” at Capital Building

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The group that has spent the few years asking lawmakers for a statewide ban on LGBT discrimination will mark Idaho Human Rights Day serving up cookies and a message to state lawmakers, on Monday.

For the past six years, the Idaho Legislature has refused to hear testimony on a bill that would add the words,”sexual orientation and gender identity” to Idaho’s Human Rights Act.

Last year thousands of Idahoans from across the state filled out sticky notes, attended rallies and held vigils under the “Add the Words” banner.  So far this legislative session the group has been a little less visible.

Add the Words, Idaho spokeswoman Mistie Tolman says despite the lack of  headlines that marked the opening of last year’s legislative session, the campaign, and its message, is still going strong , “Daily, people across Idaho, in small towns and in cities, live in fear of being fired from their jobs, being denied housing, public services or educational opportunities because they are gay or transgender. We are often asked if as an organization we are still moving forward.  My answer is always the same. We cannot sit back and rest while good people are being harmed.  We will continue to work every day to keep hope alive. The thousands of voices we carried into the statehouse last year live on.  They continue to tell their story to the legislature, to tell them that they are wrong when they say their constituents don’t care. Add the Words is still collecting sticky notes to deliver to the legislature.”

On Monday, which nationally marks Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, the group will be at the Capital building with a table full of cookies asking lawmakers to once again,”Add the Words.” The campaign is also asking Idahoans around the state to take a few minutes to contact their own legislators regarding the act .

Tolman says other Add the Words, Idaho events will be announced throughout the 2013 session,”We are getting to know the new legislators this year, and we have events planned, so please be watching!  (You can “like” us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter)  This discussion must be had.  It is time that an open dialogue is had inside the walls of that statehouse, and we will not give up until all Idahoans are given protections.  In the words of Dr. King himself, ‘Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.’  This year, more than ever, we must all be vocal in our support.  Let your legislators know TODAY that you support amending Idaho’s Human Rights Act to Add the Words.”

Other Human Rights Day events include:

9-10:30 a.m., SUB Jordan Ballroom Poster making at BSU.

10:40 a.m. March down Capitol Blvd.Rally at the statehouse.

Noon: State of Idaho officially recognizes the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday
Speaker: Rev. Happy Watkins, New Hope Baptist Church, Spokane, WA. presented in part by the Idaho Commission on Human Rights.

For more info : mlk.boisestate.edu

Opinion: Idaho Lawmakers are back to work…Are you?

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The recent vote to ban discrimination based upon a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity by the Boise City Council was historic in every sense of the word.

From the emotional public hearing to the council’s unanimous vote, the historical significance of the ordinance’s passage was undeniable. No longer would an employee have to, in most cases, be compelled to hide their sexual orientation or gender identity out of fear of loosing their job. No longer would city law side with a landlord who could terminate a lease simply because he or she learned the tenants were a couple and not roommates. No longer could someone legally be kicked out of a cab or denied service in a restaurant simply because the owner suspects the customer might be,”a little queer.”

You could read it on the faces of those in the crowd. Some expressed the joy of the moment, others expressed relief, almost all of them expressed the realization that after years of struggling to simply be who they were, they were now finally equal in the eyes of their fellow citizens.

It was indeed a night to celebrate.

Amidst the celebration, however, I couldn’t help but think about the many areas of our state that have no organized community to speak of. I couldn’t help but think of those living in predominantly right winged small towns and rural areas that still have very real reasons to fear that their sexuality or gender identity may one day be discovered. I couldn’t help but wonder if our celebration, as historic as the passage of the Boise ordinance was, a bit premature.

Last year hundreds of individuals turned out for rallies and candlelight vigils to show their support for a bill that would add the words “gender identity and sexual orientation” to the Idaho Human Rights Act, thousands more participated in the sticky note campaign, they met with their state lawmakers, they emailed dozens of house and senate members and yet, for the sixth year in a row, their voices were ignored.

Some of those who participated in the past have given up.

“Idaho’s just to conservative,” they say. “It will never happen here.”

I suspect their pessimism is about the same as the mother from Burley who, after six years of  driving to Boise to ask her legislators to at least give the Human Rights amendment a hearing, told me on the final day of the legislature last March that she was finished, “I just can’t do it anymore. They’ve won.”

Her feeling of defeat in the face of the arrogance of power and grown adults politicking with people’s lives was understandable. But they haven’t won, not as long as there are still people willing to fill in the gap for those who can’t or no longer have the energy. If the passage of the Boise ordinance proves one thing, it’s that very fact.

So where do we go from here?

We celebrate our victories but we continue the fight.

We once again pick up our phones and our pens and ask state lawmakers to stand on the right side of history.

We continue not to take “no” for an answer.

We continue to let those in power now that we will not be ignored and that we will not give up and go away.

We keep working towards the dream of total equality for each and every Idahoan until that dream has been achieved.

You can learn more about  the “Add the Words” campaign by clicking HERE.

There will also be an informational panel discussion with city leaders this Wednesday evening, from 6:30-8:00 pm at the Community Center in Garden City. The event is free and open to the public. Click HERE to learn more.  

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