By nature, I’m something of an optimist – particularly when it comes to assuming that most people will, in the end, always do the right thing. I’ll admit that faith was put to the test Feb. 10 when a majority of the Idaho Senate State Affairs Committee decided to not print a bill that would have supported adding the words “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” to the Idaho Human Rights Act.
Nearly 300 people turned out to show their support for the legislation, and after the hearing many of them stood in the committee hall in a largely silent protest of the committee’s decision, hands over their mouths, broken only by a chorus of “We Shall Overcome,” and a vow by Idaho’s sole out legislator, Sen. Nicole LeFavour of Boise, that “This isn’t over.”
The hearing included no public testimony and wrapped up in less than an hour, with only Sen. Edgar Malepeai, Pocatello, and Michelle Stennett, Ketchum – the nine-member committee’s only two Democrats – voting in favor of the printing. Malepeai introduced the legislation to the committee in an emotional appeal, his voice occasionally cracking. “The question before us today with this legislation is whether or not it is the policy of the state of Idaho to allow discrimination against our gay family members, co-workers and friends,” he said.
“…we will no longer sit silently and allow them to continue to do the wrong thing.” – Mistie Tolman
“We want people to know how heartbroken we are on behalf of all Idahoans,” said Mistie Tolman, spokesman for Add the Words, a statewide grassroots campaign in support of amending the Idaho Human Rights Act. “It is tragic that the Senate State Affairs Committee didn’t so much as even pretend to want to know about how this legislation would improve the lives of so many of us, our families and our friends.”
“We are not giving up, however,” Tolman said. “We will continue to work side by side with allied agencies, organizations and Idahoans to show the Legislature that we will no longer sit silently and allow them to continue to do the wrong thing. We are so thankful for Sen. Malepeai and his moving introduction of the legislation, for Sen. Stennett’s vote and for Sen. LeFavour’s tireless efforts and undying devotion to equal rights for all Idahoans.”
The hearing was a personal wake-up call for me about how out of touch many of our Idaho legislators are. I wish some of the Idaho Senate State Affairs committee naysayers would have watched and listened to their Washington counterparts these last couple of weeks during the legislative debates and majority votes for marriage equality. Perhaps some of them would have been inspired to do the right thing. Just three more votes would have given us a printing – and perhaps an opportunity for Idaho’s LGBTQ community and allies to tell their legislators that all forms of discrimination are wrong.
And while I faced my own moment of discouragement after the hearing, I know that Mistie is right. The fight will go on and one day, I know we’re going to win.
Steve Martin is Pride Foundation’s Regional Development Organizer in Idaho. Email Steve or comment on the story below.