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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Defending Discrimination: LDS church joins brief defending Prop 8

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Just when you thought the LDS church had learned its lesson and was working to improve its image when it comes to its treatment of the LGBT community, comes news that the church has joined other anti-gay religious zealots in asking the Supreme Court to uphold California’s Prop 8.

You’ll recall that the LDS church had a huge role in getting the highly discriminatory proposition passed by California voters.   While certainly not the only religious organization supporting the proposition, it can not be denied that its huge network of  members, media and money was utilized  in a big way to ensure Prop 8′s passage.

As Chris Johnson over at WashBlade reports,”In a 38-page friend-of-the-court brief, filed before the Supreme Court Jan. 29, religious groups — including the Mormon Church — emphasize that justices shouldn’t strike down Prop 8 on the basis of religious support for the anti-gay amendment. The brief is signed by Von Keech, a Utah-based private attorney who has previously assisted the Mormon Church, as well as other private attorneys with his firm Alexander Dushku, R. Shawn Gunnarson and Kirton McConkie.”

The church has also filed a brief defending the Defense of Marriage Act.

“In a statement on Monday, Affirmation, a national group for gay and lesbian Mormons, questioned why the Mormon Church would participate in a legal brief in favor of Prop 8 after backing off its support of anti-gay measures since the passage of the California’s constitutional ban on same-sex marriage in 2008,” Johnson reports.

Other names included in the unholy document include the National Association of Evangelicals, the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention; the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod; the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America; the Romanian-American Evangelical Alliance of North America; and Truth in Action Ministries.

One wonders if the LDS Church realizes that no matter how hard it tries it can’t have it both ways. Either its going to support its LGBT members or its going to continue to lobby for hate. There is no middle ground.

The Supreme Court is scheduled to hear arguments in the Proposition 8 case March 26, and the DOMA case the following day.

Mormon-Owned Marriott joins DOMA repeal effort

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Marriott International Inc. has joined a coalition of companies calling for the repeal of the so-called “Defense of Marriage Act.”

According to the L.A. Times,”David Rodriguez, an executive vice president at Marriott and its chief human resources officer, was quoted by the HRC as saying, “We are proud of our longstanding commitment to diversity, inclusion and equal treatment of all our employees within our benefits programs. Joining the business coalition for DOMA repeal affirms that commitment.”

The company’s support for the repeal may or may not raise eyebrows depending on the circles you swim in. On one hand current CEO Bill Marriott as well as several other controlling parties are devout members of the LDS church. On the other hand, “Marriott has explained that he personally believed that marriage was between a man and a woman. But he said he does not mix his views on the subject with operation of the business.”

“We have to take care of our people, regardless of their sexual orientation or anything else,” Bill Marriott told the Business Insider last year .”We have all the American values: the values of hard work, the values of integrity, the values of fairness and respect.”

According to the HRC,”The Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) singles out lawfully married same-sex couples for unequal treatment under federal law.  This law discriminates in two important ways.  First, Section 2 of DOMA purports to allow states to refuse to recognize valid civil marriages of same-sex couples.  Second, Section 3 of the law carves all same-sex couples, regardless of their marital status, 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 Times article goes on to point out that,”The official stance of the Mormon church is against gay marriage, and Mormons poured a lot of money and other resources into backing Proposition 8, the 2008 California measure that banned gay marriages in the state.”

Interestingly, according to The Christian Post, former Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney rejoined the board of directors of Marriott International in December. “Marriott International, known as the Marriott Corporation until 1993, was founded in 1927 by John Willard Marriott, a close friend of Romney’s father,” the Post reports.

Click HERE to learn more about the coalition.

The Top 10 of 2012: The Agenda Looks Back (Part 1)

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Much to the dismay of the Mayans, a handful of tin foil conspirators and several anti-gay religious types, the world didn’t end. For anyone  taking notes, however, there was certainly a shift in the American conscience regarding LGBTQIA equality in 2012.

Not even the great red state of Idaho was totally immune from the feeling that,”Hey, maybe ‘the gays’ are people after all.”

So with that in mind, we take a look back at the top ten stories that impacted our community over the past year:

Number 10: The Stars Come Out

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Remember when it was cool to be coy about your sexuality, show up with your mom at award shows and join the Church of Scientology? Yeah, o.k., we don’t either but things certainly have changed since Ellen DeGeneres forever “destroyed” the traditional American family by using her top rated sitcom to announce to the world that she kisses girls and she likes it way back in 1997.

2012’s class of “I’m here, I’m queer, get used to it” closet kickers includes CNN’s Anderson Cooper, “Big Bang Theory’s” Jim Parsons, “Good Morning America” weatherman Sam Champion, Boxer Orlando Cruz, “White Collar’s” Matt Bomer, Hip-hop artist Frank Ocean, Former “X-Files” star Gillian Anderson, Former NFL player Wade Davis, McClatchy newspaper heir Kevin McClatchy, 70’s and 80’s star Kristy McNichol, “The New Normal’s” Andrew Rannells, Olympic gold medalist soccer player Megan Rapinoe 

“The Jefferson’s” star Sherman Hemsley and Astronaut Sally Ride also both came out of the closet this year, albeit posthumously.

2012 was also the year to put the “T” in the LGBT with Against Me! punk rocker Laura Jane Grace and Matrix director Lana Wachowski both revealing that they are transgender.

Number 9: The LDS Church calls for Gay Compassion

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LDS LGBTQIA members still can’t have sex and expect to be admitted into the temple but you’ve got to give the church credit, it has come a long way since the days of “reparative therapy”, using the scriptures as  justification to “smear the queers” and good old fashioned ex-communication.

In April, an openly gay BYU professor made headlines after he released videos, not only telling the LGBTQIA community that,”it gets better”, but also demonstrating that it’s possible for Mormon families to love and accept their relatives for who they are, no matter what their sexual orientation.

Earlier this month the church also unveiled a new website that,”reaches out to all God’s children, including our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters.”

Only time will tell if the church is simply trying to clean up its image after its much publicized, disastrous, involvement in California’s prop 8 or if  it’s truly repentant but as we all know Rome, or in this case, Zion, wasn’t built in a day.

Number 8: “Wanna Grab an Anti-Gay Sandwich?” Chick-fil-A Comes to Idaho.

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In a board room somewhere in College Park, Georgia, there is an executive face palming himself, “Why didn’t the fast food chain think of expanding its operations into Idaho earlier?”

Judging from the crowds that filled its three new restaurants in the Gem state during 2012, Idahoans have an appetite for hate laden greasy chicken served up on a toasted homophobic bun.

Never mind the fact that last July,Chick-fil-A President Dan Cathy spoke favorably of the company’s donations to anti-gay groups.

Who cares, it’s just fast food, right?

Apparently, the company also believes its  answering God’s call.

“I think we are inviting God’s judgment on our nation when we shake our fist at Him and say, ‘We know better than you as to what constitutes a marriage,’ and I pray God’s mercy on our generation that has such a prideful, arrogant attitude to think that we have the audacity to try to redefine what marriage is about,” Cathy told the “The Ken Coleman Show,” during an interview.

It looked like there was a little hope in September when Chicago Alderman Proco Joe Moreno met with Chik-fil-A executives and announced that the company would end its donations to anti-equality organizations.

The news was to good to be true.

As The Dallas Voice points out,”Chick-fil-A later clarified that the contributions were misconstrued and they would continue to donate to current beneficiaries, some of which fund campaigns against marriage equality. The company released a statement that all customers are valued at its restaurants, but ultimately the company’s views didn’t appear to change.”

MMMMM…nothing like a chicken sandwich served up with a side of support for intolerance. Yummy!

Number Seven: Discrimination of  Transgender Employees is against the law!

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In April, a five member, bipartisan, federal commission ruled that employer discrimination based on a person’s gender identity is a violation of the 1964 civil rights act.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission said that such action violates Title VII, which prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex and national origin.

Masen Davis, executive director of the Transgender Law Center, told the Metro Weekly that,”it would be hard to overstate the significance of the EEOC decision.”

“Transgender people already face tremendous rates of discrimination and unemployment,” Davis said. “The decision today ensures that every transgender person in the United States will have legal recourse to employment discrimination and with it a way to safeguard their access to vital employment benefits such as health insurance and retirement savings plans.”

Number 6: Hate returns to North Idaho

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Just when you thought Idaho was “too great for hate”, 33-year-old Shaun Patrick Winkler, reportedly a member of the White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan and links to the Aryan Nations and Church of Jesus Christ-Christian  made headlines around the world when announced his candidacy for Bonner County Sheriff in March.

Luckily, Winkler, who stood proudly with members of the Westboro Baptist Church when they protested a production of “The Laramie Project,” at North Idaho College in 2010, lost the election.

But, in this case, a loser never quits. Not only did Winkler go on a crusade against Mexican restaurants and a Martin Luther King Day event in Coeur d’Alene,The  Spokesman-Reivew reported in November, the now 34-year-old,”is building a new compound in North Idaho where he hosts Ku Klux Klan cross burnings and anti-Semitic Christian Identity church services.”

It sounds like maybe Chik-fil-A should consider building another on-campus restaurant, it would,  no doubt, feel right at home.

Number Five: State Lawmaker Finds Anti-Bullying Measures and Broke Back Mountain Offensive

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If the majority of individuals that make up Idaho’s LGBTQIA community didn’t know who House Education Committee Chairman Bob Nonini, R-Coeur d’Alene, was before this year, we certainly do now.

When State Senator Nicole LeFavour mailed out copies of Ang Lee’s Academy Award winning film, “Brokeback Mountain,” last December, she did so in hopes of helping to educate her fellow lawmakers about the struggles of Idaho’s gay and lesbian community.

Nonini, who is catholic and who has a record of supporting anti-equality measures, wasn’t in the mood to learn about such topics as hate, discrimination, and gay bashing,””We drove home to Coeur d’Alene and in the mailbox was this copy of “Brokeback Mountain,'” Nonini told The Idaho Statesman in March. “Just the timing of receiving it after Christmas Mass was offensive to both my wife and I. We opened it and my wife just immediately resealed it and asked me if I’d just deliver it back to Nicole.”

He was, apparently, just as equally offended when an anti-bullying bill came before his committee during the last legislative session, as well. Despite overwhelming evidence of a high rate of bullying in schools around Idaho as well as an increase in reported suicide attempts, Nonini held the measure hostage telling  Coeur d’Alene Press, “There is no need for lawmakers to impose additional anti-bullying policies on schools.”

The anti-bullying bill, which passed the Senate 25 to 8 last session, would have directed Idaho’s 115 school districts to develop clear anti-bullying policies and procedures.

No offense, Bob, but we sure wish Idaho could quit you.

Equality Riders Inspire Idaho Crowd with Message of NonViolent Action

About 25 people gathered to meet and learn from a group that is making its way across the country in the name of equality, on Tuesday night.

The SoulForce Equality riders, chosen each year from hundreds of applicants, travel throughout the country for two months visiting communities and college campuses.

Their mission?

To end political and spiritual oppression felt by those in the LGBTQ community.

Over a potluck meal, held at the Boise Unitarian Universalist Fellowship, the group of 17 riders, ages 18-31, shared their personal stories of why they got involved. They also took the time to make some personal connections with those who came to welcome them.

Earlier in the day, at a press conference on the Capital steps, rider Zachary Pullin said one of the biggest things the group does is work to reconcile faith identity with those who identify as lesbian, gay, transgender and queer,”We try to visit campuses that have discriminatory polices against the LGBTQ community, whether they be explicit policies that say you can’t be LGBTQ or an ally, to some schools where you can be kicked out for being LGBTQ identified.”

While the riders didn’t visit any Idaho schools during their tour this year, eight previous riders were arrested at BYU-Idaho in 2007.

Pullin also said the group is extremely troubled by the actions of Idaho lawmakers during this year’s legislative session, “I know that there were a couple of setbacks in Idaho this year by not including sexual orientation or gender identity in the Human Rights act  and by not passing the bullying act. We really understand that a lot of lawmakers are influenced by their religion. We are here to say that you can be LGBTQ and Christian! To use your faith as an excuse to not include sexual orientation or gender identity in the human rights act, there’s no excuse for that,” he said.

Following the dinner, the crowd watched, “Live free of Die,” a new documentary exploring the faith, struggles and confirmation of openly gay Episcopalian Bishop Gene Robinson. The film fit well with the ride’s mission.

After the screening, the riders opened themselves up for questions and answers.

Interfaith Alliance of Idaho’s Executive Director, Pam Baldwin, asked the group about their much publicized meeting with LDS church officials in Salt Lake the day before.

While some riders expressed disappointment that they weren’t able to meet with any high-ranking leaders, Jason Conner, co-director of the Equality Ride and director of programs for SoulForce, said he was “cautiously optimistic” about the meeting.

“We are one of the first LGBTQ groups to meet with church officials and not be tied an agreement of secrecy.” Conner said. “We were also able to find some common ground. Those we met with agreed that no kid who identifies him or herself as LGBTQ should ever be shunned by their families or kicked out of their homes. Hopefully there’s a 13-year old out there who is sleeping in their own bed tonight because of that meeting.”

Several riders identified their experiences in Colorado as being their most meaningful. There, four of the riders were arrested at Colorado Christian University for attempting to hold an on-campus Bible study. The group was also able to meet with leaders of the notoriously anti-gay Evangelical organization, “Focus on the Family”, headquartered in Colorado Springs.

“We found some common ground with them as well,” Conner said.

“I’m pretty confident hearts are being changed across the country. I’m seeing it with my own eyes. It’s amazing!” one rider enthusiastically told the crowd.

Following the stop in Boise, the group headed to Portland.

They will wrap up their tour in San Fransisco.

The Equality Ride’s visit to Boise was sponsored by the Interfaith Alliance of Idaho and the Pride Foundation.

Click HERE to learn more about the SoulForce Equality Ride.

Click HERE to visit the ride’s Facebook page. 

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