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:

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.”

Two in One Week: Lewiston adds Sexual Orientation language to City Policy

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Lewiston city councilors have approved a measure to add gay-friendly language to its non-discrimination policy for city employees. The passage happened on the same night Twin Falls adopted the same change to its policy. In both cases the measures passed on 5 to  2 votes.

According to The Lewiston Morning Tribune,”Jim Bennett, Lewiston’s city manager, said when he took office in 2011, he tasked employees to take a look at updating city policy, since an update had not been formally administered in the past decade. While most of it was cleanup and reorganization of the policies, Bennett said he felt it was appropriate for them to include the sexual orientation clause to official policy.”

Boise State Radio reported on Tuesday that Bennett referenced,”hiring practices that include LGBT protections across the country, and says Lewiston should not be left behind.”

Neither measure is as broad as the city wide bans on LGBT discrimination passed in Boise and Sandpoint, however. Those measures cover both sexual orientation AND gender identity. Both prohibit discrimination in cases of housing, employment and public accommodation within city limits.

Leaders from both Lewiston and Twin Falls have indicated that discussions on a broader ordinance in their cities may take place sometime in the future. On Tuesday, Twin Falls City councilman and Chamber of Commerce President, Shawn Barigar tweeted that he is “hoping to have a future discussion more broadly. ” Bennett, meanwhile, told Boise State Radio,”the topic of a city-wide nondiscrimination ordinance did come up during the meeting, but no proposal was made.”

Another Milestone: Twin Falls adds “sexual orientation” to Employee Policy

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In yet another historic moment for Idaho’s gay community, the Twin Falls City Council approved a motion Monday night to include sexual orientation in its city employee anti-harassment and discrimination policies.

The issue was raised in December by Councilwoman Rebecca Mills-Sojka, during a discussion over the city’s new employee handbook.

After a brief statement by Assistant City Manager Mike Williams, who said the city already has a zero tolerance policy on harassment and discrimination, council members spent the next 45 minutes or so debating the motion.

Vice-mayor Don Hall said he believed the city’s policy was already adequate and changing it would be little more then an “exercise in political correctness.”

Councilwoman Suzanne Hawkins agreed with Hall. She told the other members that she wondered where to draw the line. “What happens to the next group who comes to us and wants protection? Who is going to be allowed next?”, asked Hawkins

Councilwoman  Hawkins said she called Saint Luke’s, one of the state’s largest employers, and asked about its non-discrimination policy. Saint Luke’s told her that while Saint Luke’s Magic Valley hospital DOES currently include sexual orientation and gender identity in its non-discrimination policy, the Boise- based health care system itself does not.

Hawkins said Saint Luke’s officials were currently in the process of taking the language out of the Twin Falls hospital’s policy in order to prevent  “problems”.

Councilman Chris Talkington responded that he wasn’t worried about “the next group, ” To me this is about showing a group that makes up ten or eleven percent of our population more sensitivity.”

Councilman and Chamber of Commerce President Shawn Barigar agreed, “This isn’t about affording additional rights to folks that they don’t have now;  this is about being sensitive to, understanding and recognizing a group of citizens who live within our community.”

“We do have an issue with bullying, we do have an issue excepting people that are different, it’s just more of a statement on not treating people differently regardless of their sexual orientation,” Mills-Sojka explained early on in the debate.

She also pointed out that the policy only affects city employees and

When Barigar asked about including gender identity language to the policy as well, Mills-Sojka said she felt that the policy’s current wording was sufficient in covering gender discrimination.

In the end, the council voted 5 to 2 to approve the motion with Mayor Greg Lanting and Councilman Jim Munn also casting yes votes.

City Manager Travis Rothweiler said the change would go into effect immediately. He said his staff would be making changes to the city’s employee handbook and other pertinent documents.

Last night’s vote comes on the heals of  major LGBT community victories in Boise and Sandpoint, which now include sexual orientation and gender identity in  broader city wide non-discrimination ordinances.  Other cities in Idaho are considering similar measures.

You can watch a full video of the debate and vote HERE.

Twin Falls Considers Adding protections for City Employees

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The Twin Falls City Council is considering expanding its employee anti-harassment and discrimination policy to include the words,”sexual orientation.”

The issue was raised in December by Councilwoman Rebecca Mills-Sojka, during a discussion over the city’s new employee handbook. The Times-News reported,”The City Council adopted the handbook without making the change, but City Manager Travis Rothweiler said city staff would study the issue and present findings to the council at a later date.”

“At the Jan. 7 meeting, City Manager Travis Rothweiler said city staff was nearly finished researching the topic,” reports the newspaper.

The staff findings are expected to be unveiled during tonight’s city council meeting.

While the policy change under discussion does not go as far as anti-discrimination ordinances enacted in Boise and Sandpoint, which ban discrimination in cases of housing, employment and public accommodation based a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity, the move would still be considered “a step in the right direction” by the city’s LGBT community.

Twin Falls City Council meets at 5:00 tonight, January 14th, at the Twin Falls City Council chambers located at 324 2nd Ave. E.

You can send emails of encouragement to city council members by clicking on their addresses below:

Mayor Greg Lanting glanting@tfid.org

Vice Mayor Don Hall dhall@tfid.org

Councilwoman Suzanne Hawkins shawkins@tfid.org

Councilwoman Rebecca Mills Sojka rmillssojka@tfid.org

Councilman Shawn Barigar sbarigar@tfid.org

Councilman Chris Talkington ctalkington@tfid.org

Councilman Jim Munn jmunn@tfid.org

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