Mistie Tolman believes that standing up and fighting for what’s right is one of her life’s responsibilities.
The 2012 Pride Foundation Idaho Scholar and out lesbian is an active and vocal voice on LGBTQ equality issues in the state. Tolman is also the primary spokesperson for Add the Words Idaho, a grassroots movement to include sexual orientation and gender identity as part of the Idaho Human Rights Act.
Mistie’s passion for social justice grew after breaking from the Mormon Church, a past she still sometimes struggles to reconcile.
“I’m proud of my upbringing. I truly am,” she said. “I learned a lot of wonderful things, lessons that I will carry with me throughout my life. And yet, there is a lot of pain tied up in all of that. Really, all I can do is hope—hope that one day my family can be proud of the fact that I’m living my truth, living a life of integrity, working toward human rights, and working hard for a world that treats all of God’s children with fairness and love.”
Those are values Mistie teaches every day to her own four children, ranging in age from 7 to 15, with help from her life partner of three years, Karen McMillin. The family lives in Meridian, just west of Boise.
“The things my children have faced since I came out, no child should have to go through. And for that, my heart will always hurt a little,” Mistie said. “But they have not for one second ceased to blow me away in the process. Their capacity for love is unending. Their willingness to learn about what they don’t understand, their instinct to give someone the benefit of the doubt as they let themselves grow accustomed to the unfamiliar is astounding.”
And of Karen, Mistie knows she’s found someone who loves and supports her in all things.
“The ease with which she loves the kids is really the greatest gift she could have given me and I will be forever grateful for that,” Mistie said. “As far as school and my ‘extracurricular’ activities go, you know she sees it all. She deals with the heartbreak after a rough meeting with legislators, the nerves before speaking, and the franticness before an event. And she continues to love me. I’m a very lucky girl.”
When she’s not strategizing with Add the Words or attending an afterschool event for one of her kids, Mistie is in school herself, attending Boise State University seeking a political science degree. She’s not decided yet what she will do when she graduates, but has considered going to law school, running for local or state government office, or working for a social justice advocacy organization like ACLU or Planned Parenthood.
“I want to help make things better for LGBTQ folks,” she said. “I want to be a part of that movement and do something with my life that matters. And I want people to know that I’m the mother of four amazing human beings who are being raised to hopefully make their corners of the world better, too.”
Mistie was among dozens of people who offered testimony to the Boise City Council during a public hearing in November for a new citywide ordinance protecting LGBTQ residents from discriminatory acts in housing, employment and public accommodations. She was also there December 4 when the council unanimously passed the ordinance, which took effect on January 1.
“Getting to take part in that public testimony hearing was truly one of those life-changing moments for me,” she said. “It’s so nice to be able to celebrate these victories, even the small ones. We have to! I’m often disappointed by our legislature, but I am proud of our people. They want Idaho to be on the right side of history, and we’ll get there. It’s only a matter of time. You can’t un-ring the bell of equality.”
Mistie gains inspiration from the words of Anne Frank, and thinks about her often as she pursues her own social justice path in life.
“To think that we don’t have to wait one second to change the world—how is that not the most amazing thought in the world?” she said. “That was one of Anne’s thoughts. I don’t have to be the leader of an organization, wait until my schoolwork is done, or when my children are grown. I can do something right now, today, to make the world a better place. We all can.”
Steve Martin is Pride Foundation’s Regional Development Organizer in Idaho. Email Steve. The application deadline for Pride Foundation’s 2013 Scholarship Program is January 31, 2013. Apply today!