Under the Influence? LDS Church Leader suggested Pocatello ARFP meeting

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A meeting between a national conservative religious group and Pocatello’s city council members, regarding a LGBT anti-discrimination ordinance, was arranged by a local leader of the LDS Church.

According to the Idaho State Journal,” It was the Regional Public Affairs Director for the LDS Church, Larry Fisher, who first contacted Pocatello Mayor Brian Blad about giving an audience to Jacki Pick of the Washington-based conservative group so she could talk to city officials about the proposed anti-discrimination ordinance..”

Pick,  a senior legislative advisor for the Ethics and Public Policy Center’s American Religious Freedom Program, met with Council members on April 4th, ahead of a vote on an ordinance that would have prohibited discrimination based on sexual orintation or gender identity.

Fischer, Regional Public Affairs Director for the LDS Church, tells the Journal,”The Church has spoken publicly in support of nondiscrimination ordinances, and also recognizes the need for balance and the importance of all voices being heard. We felt that ARFP had a valuable perspective to offer regarding balance in crafting nondiscrimination ordinances.”

According to the Associated Press,”The meetings (with Pick) were held over five sessions and none included a quorum of the council, so no notes were taken.” The Journal reports that,”Lunch was brought in for a total cost to the city of $75.90.”

The Journal reported last month that Pick emailed Mayor Brian Blad a copy of a new purposed ordinance that, according to Deputy City Attorney Kirk Bybee,”removed criminal sanctions for violations and essentially allowed those with ‘sincere religious beliefs’ in opposition to the gay lifestyle to discriminate.”

Curiously, the LDS church supported a 2009 anti-discrimination measure in Salt Lake that includes sanctions for those who violate its ordinance. The Salt Lake ordinance, like ones passed in Boise and elsewhere, do allow for certain religious exemptions.

According to Local News 8-TV, Pick “repeatedly made claims that no ordinances like this have criminalized discriminatory behavior.” All four of Idaho’s LGBT anti-discrimination city ordinances call for imposing some sort of sanctions on would-be violators.

While the Council heard from the ACLU of Idaho and other local human rights organizations, the meetings with Pick mark the first major outside influence from a national conservative group on a LGBT anti-discrimination city ordinance in Idaho. It’s also important to note that none of the local or state organizations were given similar such meetings with council members.

The ordinance, drafted by Bybee, was defeated in a three to three tie, with Mayor Blad casting the tie-breaking “no’ vote in April.

A newly drafted ordinance was introduced to the Council on May 9th, but according to Local News 8, “the (City’s) Human Rights Committee advised the Council to postpone a vote on the ordinance until after the elections in November.

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“The Fall of ’55” Screening part of Boise History Celebration

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Idaho’s capital city has been celebrating its sesquicentennial with numerous events and exhibits over the past few months. Tomorrow night, Boise 150 and Opera Idaho will join together to take a look at one of the darkest periods in Boise’s gay history.

The award-winning film documents the frenzy of the so-called “Boys Of Boise” scandal, which griped Boise, and the nation, until 1957.  During the scandal some 1,500 people were questioned, sixteen men faced charges, and fifteen men were sentenced to terms ranging from probation to life in prison.

According to the film’s producers,” Director Seth Randal’s gripping documentary provides unique insights into the pre-Stonewall gay experience as well as 1950s’ America’s struggle with the issue of homosexuality and the prevailing myth that it was a cancer that could be spread to the youth. Interesting parallels are also drawn with the era of McCarthyism, during which fear and paranoia supplanted rational thought, and the federal government began its own purge of gays (one that continued until recently in our military).”

The free screening is being held in conjunction with the Opera Idaho’s performances of Carlisle Floyd’s opera Susannah — a metaphor for McCarthyism, a period of intense fear of communism in America during the early 1950s.

A panel discussion will follow the screening. Panelists include longtime attorney and Boise High class of 1955 member, M. Neal Newhouse, Idaho Statesman political columnist Dan Popkey, longtime Boisean and former singer June Schmitz, the film’s historical adviser, Alan Virta, and the film’s director, Seth Randal.

The event will be held  from 7:00-9:30 pm, at the historic Egyptian Theater located at 700 West Main Street in downtown Boise.

Click HERE for more info about the event.

You can visit the film’s Facebook page by clicking HERE.

City of Boise Proclaims May 17th International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia

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For the very first time in its 8-year history members of the State of Idaho’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) community and its allies are getting ready to join in the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia (I.D.A.H.O.).  As part of the planned festivities, Idaho’s capital city has officially proclaimed May 17th as the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia.

In a press release, I.D.A.H.O. organizer Christopher Cooke said the historic proclamation gives the entire state hope that a new era is on its way when it comes to human rights. “With the the unanimous passage of a LGBT focused anti-discrimination ordinance, the appointment of a LGBT Police liaison, and now the proclamation calling for an end of intolerance and phobia when it comes to sexual orientation and gender identity, it’s pretty clear that the city has become a role model for other cities in Idaho to follow. We have no doubt that Boise’s light of truth, fairness and compassion shines like a beacon and that equality will soon become the norm in every corner of our state thanks to its leadership.”

I.D.A.H.O. events are scheduled to take place in Idaho on May 16th and 17th. On Thursday, May 16th, Idahoans will gather at the Anne Frank Memorial for an interfaith vigil to honor those impacted by the harms of homophobia and transphobia here at home and around the globe. The vigil will begin at six pm.

 On Friday, May 17th there will be an educational forum on the progression of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Equality. The forum will include a free screening of the award winning film, “Stonewall Uprising” followed by a panel discussion on the “state” of LGBT equality in America and here in Idaho. The event will be held from 5:30-7:30 pm inside the Boise State University Student Union Building Bishop Barnwell Room.

Pocatello’s LGBT community and its allies will also be observing I.D.A.H.O. on Friday with a celebration that will include speakers and personal stories. The event will start at 7:30 pm at the Co Ho (‘The smart bar’), located at 904 S 4th Ave, Pocatello, ID 83201. All events are free and open to the public.

Click HERE to visit the Act Up Idaho website. You can also find the group on Facebook by clicking HERE.

Idaho to Observe International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia (I.D.A.H.O.)

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As hundreds of organizations around the world mobilize to celebrate the International Day Against Against Homophobia and Transphobia (I.D.A.H.O.), for the very first time in its 8-year history members of the state of Idaho’s LGBT community and its allies are getting ready to join in the celebration.

Created in 2004, the International Day against Homophobia and Transphobia is global date set aside to draw the attention of policy makers, opinion leaders, social movements, public opinion, the media, etc, to the issue, and to promote a world of tolerance, respect and freedom regardless of people’s sexual orientation or gender identity. As much as it is a day against violence and oppression, it is also a day for freedom, diversity and acceptance.

Organizers here in the state of Idaho say they are joining in the movement to not only highlight the problems of homophobia and transphobia around the state, but also to draw attention to the need for more elected officials to take a stand to protect ALL of their constituents.

Organizer Christopher Cooke says Idaho lawmakers can no longer ignore the growing need for such laws and ordinances,“When you have bodies like the United Nations and the State Department calling for tolerance and understanding for the LGBT community on a global scale, it’s mind-boggling that here at in the gem state lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender men and women continue to be harassed, beat, and bullied. They also continue to be at risk of losing their housing, their jobs and can be denied public accommodation simply for being who they are. Heartbreaking doesn’t even begin to describe the situation.”

Far from being a “gay” issue, homophobia and transphobia targets all people who don’t conform to majority sexual and gender roles. It also continues to be a global problem. In more than 80 countries around the world, loving someone of the same-sex is still considered illegal, at times involving life-time imprisonment. In 7 countries, homosexual acts are punishable by death. In almost all countries, freedom not to act as socially determined by one person’s sex at birth is being limited by Transphobic laws and attitudes. But even in progressive countries, like here in the U.S., these phobias still exist in the form of discriminatory laws, unjust representations in the media, unfair treatment by employers, negative social attitudes, etc.

“We are a coalition of concerned individuals, and organizations . Our dedication is driven by our passion, and shared desire to make Idaho the best we can. We have felt the collective pain in injustice in our community, and seek only to do our part in building, educating, and activating our community, and allies, in achieving dignity and equality. Though love we unlock the potential greatness our community has to offer,” says Cooke.

I.D.A.H.O. events are scheduled to take place in communities around the state on May 16th and 17th. The events are free and open to the public. To learn more, to share your story, or to get involved you can go to the event website set up for the state of Idaho set up at www.actupidaho.org or you can find the official Facebook page HERE.

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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