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.

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.

Pocatello unveils new LGBT Nondiscrimination Ordinance

 

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Members of the Pocatello City Council discussed a newly drafted ordinance aimed at reducing discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity and expression during their working session this morning.

The purposed ordinance comes on the heals of the defeat of a similar measure by the city council last month. Some say the new ordinance, which was drafted at the request of Mayor Brian Blad who cast a tie breaking no vote for the previous proposal, takes a more moderate stance on the issue.

According to a draft published in the meeting agenda, the new ordinance recognizes that,”every person has a sexual orientation and a gender identity/expression”,  it also acknowledges that discrimination against such classes in cases of employment, public accommodation and housing could and does occur, but it narrows the definitions of what exactly constitutes such discrimination. It also broadens the scope of who is exempted from following the ordinance.

One of the major concerns for supporters of a antidiscrimination ordinance has been the outside influence of  Jacki Pick, a senior legislative adviser for Ethics and Public Policy Center. According to the EPPC website the organisation was “established in 1976 to clarify and reinforce the bond between the Judeo-Christian moral
tradition and the public debate over domestic and foreign policy
issues.”

The  Idaho State Journal reports that,”Pick spent most of the day April 4 in meetings with city officials and sent a proposed new ordinance to Mayor Blad five days before the April 18 council meeting.” She also,”told council members that the ordinance needed more exemptions for possible enforcement if people objected on “religious grounds”, the Journal reported.  The Pocatello meetings mark the first major outside influence from a national conservative group on a LGBT anti-discrimination city ordinance in Idaho.

Blad’s vote against the previous ordinance has sparked a groundswell of support for former Mayor Roger Chase, who lost to Blad in 2009 and is once again seeking re-election. According to the Idaho State Journal, Blad “explained his decision, saying he was committed to developing an ordinance that will be supported by the entire community.” Chase, who has been supportive of LGBT issues in the past told the Journal,” issues surrounding the ordinance should have been resolved prior to the vote being taken.”

This morning’s meeting drew a strong turn out from supporters of a anti-discrimination ordinance. Many say the latest proposal is better than no ordinance at all, though some wonder just how much protection it will really offer. Four cities in Idaho have enacted LGBT anti-discrimination measures. Boise, Moscow, Sandpoint, and Ketchum have all banned LGBT discrimination within city limits.

You can read the new proposal HERE.

A Facebook page has been set up to help end LGBT discrimination in Pocatello. You can find that 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:

Pocatello rallies for Non-Discrimination Ordinance

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Photo courtesy of Josh Rahl

The passage of an anti-discrimination ordinance in Pocatello maybe still to close to call, but  that doesn’t mean its supporters are just  sitting around waiting for a final vote.

City council members heard from dozens of supporters of the ordinance last week during a public testimony meeting.  According to the Chair of the Human Relations Advisory Committee for the city of Pocatello and a key supporting figure of the law, Susie Matsuura, approximately 200 residents turned out last Thursday to hear testimony and speak in favor of the ordinance that would ban discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity in housing, employment and public accommodations.

“Just the numbers of people who turned out last night took my breath away, and their impassioned testimony – oh my. I can’t think of the words to praise them for their bravery and passion in coming forward to share a very personal part of their lives,” said Matsuura in a press release.

Matsuura said she “urges all to thank the Pocatello City Council and Mayor for the opportunity to speak out on this important issue. The city leaders took the time to really hear the voices and see the “beating hearts” of some of their most vulnerable constituents.”

During the meeting State Senator Roy Lacey, D-District 29, spoke in favor of the ordinance, telling the council members he believed the measure would benefit the community as a whole.

Former city council woman and state representative, Donna Boe, also spoke. She said she empathized with the council as they deliberate their decision, but she encouraged them to view the measure favorably.

The meeting was filled with several emotional moments. Despite the fact that  they could lose their jobs and their housing,  four residents “came out” publicly for the first time to support the measure, including Gloria Mayer, a 63-year old grandma.  Mayer noted, “I am gay. That is the first time I have said that publicly. It is not that I’m embarrassed to be gay. But I have always felt that who I love is nobody’s business. ‘Sometimes you have to stand up for what you believe in,’ so here I am.”

Following the meeting, supporters were encouraged to send notes of thanks to the city council members.  A Facebook group set up to keep citizens informed about the ordinance is also encouraging folks to show their support by taking the following steps:

1. Plan to come to the next city council meeting on April 18, city hall, 6 p.m., earlier if you want to get a seat — they need to see our beating hearts and see our faces — AGAIN. We are real people with lives.

2. Write letters and emails, even very short ones that just say, “pass the ordinance” to the city council and if you want, the mayor.

3. Make one-on-one appointments with Councilmen Jim Johnston and Steve Brown. Let them hear from you, your personal story.

You can learn more about the ordinance and the group HERE.

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