Sandpoint ID passes citywide non-discrimination ordinance

The north Idaho town of Sandpoint has become the first city in the state to pass a citywide non-discrimination ordinance that includes protections for sexual orientation and gender identity/expression. The ordinance was passed unanimously by the city council at its Dec. 21 meeting, and will go into effect by the end of January.

Appropriately titled “Discrimination Prohibited,” the ordinance “reaffirms our stance against discrimination,” said John Reuter, who has served on the Sandpoint City Council since June 2008 and is currently council president. “We believe that if we have the ability to make a stand in our small town, we have an obligation to do so.”

Reuter, 28, co-owner of the Sandpoint Reader weekly newspaper and communications director for the Idaho Senate Majority Caucus, said he and Sandpoint Mayor Gretchen Hellar had been discussing the idea of a broad non-discrimination ordinance for several years, and “I got serious about it this fall and started pushing a lot harder and building a coalition of support. It was long overdue.”

The ordinance states in part that “in order to ensure that all persons, regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity/expression enjoy the full benefits of citizenship and are afforded equal opportunities for employment, housing, commercial property and the use of public accommodations, it is necessary that appropriate legislation be enacted.”

Reuter said Sandpoint modeled its ordinance after citywide non-discrimination ordinances passed in Salt Lake City, Utah and Missoula, Montana.

“The city of Sandpoint should be commended for their vision and steadfast commitment to equality and fairness under the law,” said Monica Hopkins, executive director of the ACLU of Idaho, which reached out to Sandpoint’s city attorney to offer support in reviewing the ordinance and assisted in crafting a religious exemption that adhered to the Constitution and federal law.

Other cities in Idaho have added comprehensive non-discrimination employment policies, Hopkins said, but the policies only affect city employees. Boise and Pocatello have added language protection for both sexual orientation and gender identity/expression. Caldwell and Moscow have added sexual orientation only.

Sandpoint has a population of about 8,000, and the community has a proud history of support for human rights issues, including LGBTQ equality, led by organizations in the area that include Bonner County Human Rights Task Force and Foundation for Human Rights Action and Advocacy (FHRAA). Pride Foundation held a widely-supported fundraising event in Sandpoint in September 2011, and awarded a sponsorship grant to FHRAA for its annual Songwriter’s Circle concert fundraiser in November.

“This is about basic human dignity,” said Reuter, adding that he hopes Sandpoint’s example will serve as a motivator for other Idaho towns to adopt citywide non-discrimination ordinances with sexual orientation and gender identity/expression language. “We’re saying to everyone – ‘Hey, the community is with you here. You’re welcome here. You don’t have to fear.’ We’ve created an ordinance that’s fair, that educates and brings the community together.”

Steve Martin is Pride Foundation’s Regional Development Organizer in Idaho. Email Steve.

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