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.

Idaho Human Rights Day Speakers include Gay Community in Dr. King’s Dream

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Hundreds braved single digit temperatures on Monday to celebrate human rights and to observe the dream of  Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in Boise, on Monday.

After marching with signs and banners down Capital Boulevard, the crowd gathered at  the statehouse steps to grab a cup of cider and listen to fellow Idahoan’s describe what Dr. King’s dream meant to them.

One of those speakers was Ryan Greg, Boise State University’s first openly gay student body president. Greg told the crowd that,”Even in 2013, where a black man has just been sworn in for his second term as president, Dr. King’s dream still has not been fully realized.”

He cited the lack of a statewide ban on LGBT discrimination as proof of work still yet to be done. “I dream of a time when marriage as recognized by your God is not the same as marriage as recognized by your government,”Greg said, in relation to state lawmakers refusing to pass such legislation.

Meanwhile, inside the Capital Building, glaringly absent from this year’s observation was Idaho Governor Butch Otter. Instead, Lt. Governor Brad Little read the proclamation declaring the day “Idaho Human Rights Day.’ One critic noted that the proclamation made no mention of any of  Idaho’s minority groups or suggested any hope for the advancement of the dream that the document gave nod to.

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Keynote speaker Reverend Percy “Happy” Watkins of Spokane, Washington delivered an updated version of Dr. King’s speech. In it he told the crowd gathered in the rotunda that his dream includes “the day that gays and lesbians will be able to walk down the streets” of America “hand in hand.”

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According to his website,”Happy is widely known for his powerful rendition of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I have a dream” speech, which he delivers annually at Spokane’s King Day Parade, as well as at other venues throughout the region. He is also recognized as a dynamic motivational speaker and lecturer, and is invited regularly to deliver his inspirational messages to organizations, educational and religious institutions, and at community events across the state.”

The ceremony also included musical selections from Boise’s Common Ground Community Chorus.  The chorus has a long history in Boise’s LGBT community. Organized in March 2000, it was originally known as Boise Pride Chorale. In 2002 the Chorale was reorganized as the Idaho Voices of Diversity. In 2008 the choir was re-branded as Common Ground Community Chorus. (You can learn more about it HERE.)

Monday’s observance was sponsored by the Idaho Human Rights Commission, the Ada County Human Rights Task Force, the Idaho Human Rights Education Center and the Idaho Department of Labor.

Similar observances and marches were held in communities around the state.

The President’s Choice: Hagel Appears to do a 360 on Gay Issues

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It appears though that either President Obama’s pick for the next defense secretary has either done some “evolving” or  he desperately wants a job.

Fourteen years ago, Chuck Hagel, a Republican and former senator from Nebraska, made some pretty despicable marks regarding the appointment of  ambassadorial nominee James C. Hormel.

According to Buzzfeed,”In a 1998 Omaha World Herald article recently published online, Hagel detailed his objection to Hormel’s nomination, saying he was concerned that Hormel had aligned himself with a group he considered “anti-Catholic,” and asserted that being gay was “beyond common sense.”

In December, Hagel issued a strongly worded apology for the Hormel comment,”My comments 14 years ago in 1998 were insensitive. They do not reflect my views or the totality of my public record, and I apologize to Ambassador Hormel and any LGBT Americans who may question my commitment to their civil rights. I am fully supportive of ‘open service’ and committed to LGBT military families,” Hagel wrote.

Earlier this week the nominee gained the support of New York Senator Charles Schumer and California Senator Barbara Boxer, both key democrats.

In an open letter to Boxer, Hagel writes that  he  now fully supports the 2010 repeal of  “don’t ask, don’t tell”, “I know first hand the profound sacrifice our service members and their families make, If confirmed as secretary of defense, I will do everything possible to the extent permissible under law to provide equal benefits to families of all our service members.”

Hagel also wrote that he “will fully implement all laws protecting women service member’s reproductive rights,” a big concern for Boxer, since Hagel had voted against providing abortion access to service members when he was in the Senate.

Still, Hagel hasn’t managed to convince everybody. Huffington Post reports that Log Cabin Republicans contend his apparent 360 may not go far enough, “While Senator Hagel’s recent professed support for gay military families is encouraging, it stands at odds with his record of opposition to the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and his broader record of opposition to equality for gay and lesbian Americans, We look forward to the confirmation hearings when the Senator will be able to explain his apparent epiphany in greater detail. We continue to remain cautious about his nomination until that time,” Gregory T. Angelo, the Log Cabin’s interim executive director told the news blog on Tuesday.

Only time, and the upcoming senate confirmation hearings, will tell if Hagel’s change is sincere. If the current winds of equality continue at their current cyclone-like pace,  however, it’s a safe bet that we are going to see a whole heck of a lot more politicians finding themselves caught up in similar evolutionary storms.

Survey gives Officials better picture of Idaho’s LGBT Population

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The next time a survey taker calls your home you might want to answer the phone. That’s because health officials are relying on what’s called the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance Survey to get a better grasp on of the health of a state’s population.  Here in Idaho, that includes those who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender.

According to JamieLou Delavan, who heads up Idaho’s Bureau of Community & Environmental Health, Idaho’s survey began to include questions on gender identity and sexual orientation in 2011.

According to the CDC, “the survey is the world’s largest, on-going telephone health survey system, tracking health conditions and risk behaviors in the United States yearly since 1984. Currently, data is collected monthly in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Guam.”

Delvan says the inclusion of questions concerning Idaho’s LGBT population is a pretty important milestone,”Every state conducts this survey but not every state asks gender identity in an expanded way or asks sexual orientation.  Some states are kind of surprised that we now include this in Idaho.”

Conducted throughout the year, states use the data to identify emerging health problems, establish and track health objectives, and develop and evaluate public health policies and programs. Many states also use the data to support health-related legislative efforts.

Getting anyone to participate in a phone survey can be challenging, especially in today’s environment of endless robocalls and telemarketing campaigns, but in rural conservative states like Idaho asking LGBT individuals to identify themselves as such can prove to be even tougher.

But the good news is those who participate in the survey do so confidentially and anonymously. Devlin says the information regarding one’s sexuality or gender identity is only used to give health officials a better idea of what’s happening health wise within a state’s population or community.

Data collected from those who identified as LGBT during last year’s survey helped to confirm several aspects of the community’s overall health picture.

Officials are hoping for even more participation this year.

Delvan says more participation in the survey by those who identify themselves as LGBT can mean more funding, more programs and better health care for Idaho’s LGBT population.

Click HERE to see Idaho stats from last year’s survey.

Click HERE to learn more about the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance Survey program.

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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