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.)

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Opinion: The Importance of the “Gay” Media

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During the economic downturn a few years ago, more than one media expert declared the “gay” press dead. They pointed to the number of print media institutions closing up for various reasons, many because the advertisers either weren’t paying their bills or the money that was being spent previously trying to reach the LGBT community was being spent elsewhere. Sadly, many media outlets like Idaho’s own historic “Diversity” were financially forced into silence.

Some have made the argument that, because there’s so many LGBT friendly news outlets and organizations in existence, our community no longer needs forums solely dedicated to and produced by the the community. Their reasoning usually goes something along the lines of pointing out that television station X or radio station Y reaches a more mainstream audience than a LGBT focused website or newspaper could ever hope to reach.”

The main problem with that line of thinking is that, in most cases, those media outlets are controlled by a corporation. The end goal usually isn’t the betterment of a community or to really even inform, instead, it’s more likely that your favorite news show or newspaper is simply seen as another business venture by those who control the purse strings. As a media consumer you become a demographic to be hooked in and sold to. Mainstream media outlets filter their stories to fit their demographic needs, not the needs of most real people.

It’s easy to “like” a story or to hit the “share” button on an article, but in the end you’re simply adding to a media outlet’s demographical bottom line, whether you support that outlet’s overall message or not.

There are often certain aspects of LGBT media that a mainstream commercial entity can’t or won’t offer to a local community. Tracy Baim, who co-founded the famed Chicago LGBT newspaper,Windy City Times, writes in a just published look at the “gay” press,”The role of gay media continues … because there are … many cases where the mainstream media are simply parachuting into a story and therefore providing an incomplete and thus inaccurate picture for their readers.”

As someone who has been involved in three different online LGBT news ventures here in Idaho over the years, as well as being an avid fan of “Diversity”, I can tell you first hand that when a LGBT issue does draw mainstream media attention it’s often either political or its sensationalistic.

When it’s political, most reporters treat the story as if civil rights were a football game, taking the infamous “he said, she said” approach,” playing the so-called “fair and balanced” game made famous by Fox News and others, rather than a fully unbiased report on a meeting, issue or bill.

When its sensationalistic, the mainstream media often lacks the resources, knowledge or expertise to give the story context and perspective.

That is, of course, if they cover it all.

When is the last time, for example, that the mainstream media covered a LGBT fundraiser, a candlelight vigil or a themed night at the Balcony? It happens, but not very often.

The benefits of the “gay” media are numerous, especially in a state as large and as sparsely populated as Idaho. What the stories lack in big media showmanship, they make up for in adding context, prospective and quite often make up the only coverage, outside of a Facebook invite, the event or issue will receive.

It’s also very often a catalyst for the mainstream media. During the recent incident involving a beating in Pocatello, for example, it was an Idaho Agenda reader that finally got the local newspaper to do a story on the matter. The newspaper ended up not only running a great article on the subject, but a subsequent well-written editorial on the issue, as well.

When I started the Agenda, it was for the sole purpose of providing an outlet for news and events that impact Idaho’s. The idea was to create a platform for the many voices, groups and events in our community. Like the other ventures I’ve been involved in, it’s also quite often a lonely one. Despite extending numerous invitations and running monthly announcements, virtually begging for other voices to be involved, it largely remains a sole venture.

Sometimes, when I sit back and watch a story evolve into something that makes a tangible impact on our community, I love the “beast” I have created. Other times, when my friends are angry because I don’t have time to go to coffee, or I can’t seem to find a source to comment, or because the Agenda wasn’t included in a press release and I’m having to track down details, it’s one of the most frustrating things in the world.

Still, I believe the Agenda and its readers are making a difference. Whether I publish for one reader or for a million, the end goal is the same; to encourage involvement in our community, to provide a snapshot of our movement and where we are headed and to inform those who wish to be informed. To that end, I believe the “gay” media is just as important today as it ever was, in print, online or over the air, I believe our stories must be told, and if recent history is any indication, we just may be on the cutting edge of re-writing the definition of what it means to be a part of Idaho’s LGBT community.

(Ed Note: If you would like to contribute an article, opinion-piece, or have a news tip or if you would just like to get the word out about your group or event, please email it to idahoagenda@gmail.com. You can also help spread the word by “liking” and sharing the Idaho Agenda Facebook page or find us on Twitter. Your participation is always welcome!-J.T.)

Frank VanderSloot files lawsuit against Mother Jones

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The Post-Falls Register is reporting today that the CEO of Melaleuca, Inc., has filed a lawsuit against the magazine for “depicting him as a ‘gay-basher’.

According to the article, republished by the Idaho Statesman, VanderSloot, who  served as national finance co-chair of the Mitt Romney presidential campaign,  is asking for, “up to $74,999 in damages”.

“The lawsuit targets portions of the article that describe VanderSloot as anti-gay, as well as Twitter posts promoting the article by author Stephanie Mencimer and magazine Co-Editor in Chief Monika Bauerlein,” reports Zack Kyle of the Post Falls Register.

You might recall that last February the Idaho Agenda received a  “take down notice” from Melaleuca attorneys for an article that attempted to draw attention to VanderSloot’s activities pertaining to Idaho’s LGBT community. The Agenda chose to comply with the notice.

That incident and others became the subject of dozens of articles that included the Mother Jones piece, one published by Slate.com’s Glenn Greenwald and coverage by MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow.  The Obama campaign also included VanderSloot  on its “Truth Team” website.

VanderSloot publicly responded to the criticism, which included a written response to the Greenwald article, as well as multiple appearances on Fox News.

While the term “gay bashing” does not appear in the Mother Jones article, the Post Register reports,’court documents point to Bauerlein’s Feb. 6 tweet that read: “Romney’s gay-bashing buddy runs a company that targets stay-at-home moms for misleading marketing scheme. Charming!”

VanderSloot tells Kyle,” I’ve never taken shots like this before,” and goes on to say “I think it’s particularly egregious to accuse somebody of a hate crime.”

The Return of the Idaho Agenda

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Nelson Mandela once wrote,”There is nothing like returning to a place that remains unchanged to find the ways in which you yourself have been altered.”

Returning to the Idaho Agenda feels like home, yet so much has happened in my personal life and in the world at large over the past ten months or so its stories, opinion pieces, and reader comments seem more like an archive of another time and of another place rather then the handful of months since its last publication.

There are many reasons for its extended absence. Without going into a lot of detail, I will say that my life became such that day to day writing, editing and posting became impossible.

Even so, every advancement made in the name of equality in Idaho, every breaking news story and every email asking for the Agenda’s return brought with it the often times unbearable cravings to get to a computer and to feed whatever beast it is that drives a reporter’s addiction to the clicking of a keyboard, the pursuit of the perfect adjective and the desire to fill up an empty screen.

When I first started the Agenda, it was with the idea that  would be a journal of events, news and commentary by and for Idaho’s LGBTQIA community. A year and several months later, I believe that its mission is just as vital today as it was then.

For despite the victories of the past year, there is still work to be done. There are still stories to tell, events that need to be made known and conversations to be had.

There are still people in our beloved state who are afraid to “come out.” There are still whole communities in which fear, loneliness and oppression are still the norm and not the rare occurrence. There are still populations living within our state not yet truly included in our majority’s dreams and conversations of, “equal rights for all”. There are still advances to be made in the areas of health care, marriage, spirituality and a whole host of other needs that come with the idea that we all have the right to, “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

It is with that work and with that mission in mind that I renew my dedication to once again providing an outlet for Idaho’s LGBTQIA community.

It is with that mission in  mind that I remind myself and my readers that,”equality IS the agenda.”

May we not rest until the agenda has been achieved.

If you would like to get the word out about your group, event or if you have an opinion on something related to the LGBT community email it to idahoagenda@gmail.com.

Be sure you don’t miss a thing by following us at @idahoageda on Twitter and by “liking” us on Facebook!

Daily Kos features May-Chang/VanderSloot Saga

Daily Kos blogger laserhaas has written a great post summarizing the ongoing story involving Romney finance co-chair and Idaho businessman Frank VanderSloot.

You might recall that independent journalist Jody May-Chang, this blog and others were recipients of takedown notices earlier this year by attorneys working for VanderSloot’s Melaleuca company.

laserhaas does an excellent job bringing readers up to speed on the saga that includes the article by Salon’s Glenn Greenwald, an eight-minute piece by MSNBC”s Rachel Maddow as well as articles posted by Forbes and Mother Jones.

Now that Romney is clearly the GOP presidential candidate nominee, it will be interesting to see just how his campaign handles the publicity.

For his part, VanderSloot has created a website dedicated to responding to his critics. www.frankvanderslootresponse.com includes his original response to the Greenwald article, a letter from the Idaho State Attorney General’s office as well as an excerpt from blog comments made by Post-Register publisher Roger Plothow.

In March, the Human Rights Campaign started a petition calling on the GOP frontrunner to remove VanderSloot from his campaign. In a letter to its supporters, the HRC called VanderSloot, “one of the most ruthlessly anti-LGBT bullies in our nation. He’s funneled money to causes that demonize LGBT people and damage our families. His lack of a moral compass includes outing an Idaho man and leading a relentless character assault against him.”

So far, there has been no response from the Romney campaign.

Click HERE to read the full post over at Daily Kos.

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