Like virtually all LGBTQ Idahoans, I was deeply disappointed to see the Idaho Legislature adjourn in March without adopting a statewide “Add the Words” bill, which would have included sexual orientation and gender identity as protected classes in the Idaho Human Rights Act.
For the last ten years, supporters have worked to pass this much-needed bill through our state legislature. A bill including full protections was introduced early in the recent session by our allies in the Senate, but it stalled quickly with no committee debate or public hearing. A harmful “compromise” bill that included religious exemptions moved for weeks behind the scenes but thankfully never surfaced. Such an overly broad religious exemptions bill would have, in effect, permitted discrimination not only against LGBTQ people, but it would have allowed anyone to refuse to follow laws they claim would interfere with their religious beliefs.
Ultimately, Idaho lawmakers ended the session and, once again, did nothing to protect people like me, my husband, or LGBTQ Idahoans from discrimination. It’s frustrating to me, particularly after having just read applications and conducted interviews for LGBTQ students from Idaho seeking Pride Foundation scholarships.
Too many of these students are vulnerable—they fear for their safety in their small, rural communities and face backlash from unsupportive family members. This ongoing denial of rights tells these students that who they are is somehow wrong—that their lives and their livelihoods do not matter.
The scholarship applicants’ stories echoed testimony during the January 2015 public hearing on an “Add the Words” bill, which died in committee after three days of emotional testimony. I distinctly remember one young trans man telling House committee members that he risked losing his job and being evicted from his home just by being there and testifying.
I am certain, though, that momentum is on our side. I am encouraged by the growing number of people who are stepping up to support LGBTQ equality in Idaho.
Twelve Idaho cities have now adopted nondiscrimination ordinances, protecting LGBTQ people from discrimination in housing, employment, and public accommodations. New gay-straight alliance (GSA) clubs have formed in high schools across the state, including Pocatello, where there are now three GSA clubs supported by Pride Foundation grant funding.
Working together is our best hope for victory. Representing Pride Foundation, I am part of a coalition with ACLU of Idaho, Planned Parenthood Votes Northwest, Human Rights Campaign, LGBTA Democratic Caucus of Idaho, and PFLAG, to name a few. We share ideas and strategies around advancing an “Add the Words” bill, educate on nondiscrimination, and empower people across Idaho to contact legislators about this important bill.
I look forward to the day when Idaho adds the words, giving all LGBTQ Idahoans the freedom to be who they are, where they are. I know it will happen because I meet and work with people like you every day who fill me with hope.
Despite one more legislative session passing with no action in support of LGBTQ people and their families, this community is making a profound difference and, together, we will ensure that every Idahoan sees equality and knows that their lives and their livelihoods are respected and that they matter.
Steve Martin is Pride Foundation’s Regional Development Organizer in Idaho. Email Steve.