Leo Morales, Executive Director of ACLU of Idaho, recognizes how unapproachable the legislative process can seem from the outside.
“Idaho’s geography, perceived political climate, and ongoing negative media attention leads people to believe it’s hopeless to try and make positive changes,” he reflects.
Educating people on how to engage their legislators on important issues is one of the goals of ACLU of Idaho’s annual Activist Academy, which takes place on January 14 at the Idaho State Capitol Building, this year.
“Understanding power dynamics and institutional structures is imperative to moving people to act at any level, on any issue—but especially LGBTQ equality,” Morales notes.
The Academy—supported by Pride Foundation grant funds—teaches people about political power structures in Idaho and offers specific ways to advocate for change through training about messaging, lobbying, and strategy.
“Members of the LGBTQ community have been in the shadows for a long time and have therefore been unable to be in spaces that promote equality and show them how to engage in this movement,” says Jess McCafferty, former ACLU of Idaho’s Communications and Outreach Coordinator and 2016 Pride Foundation Scholar. “Once the process is demystified and examples of engagement approaches are given, people are more likely to stay involved.”
Dianne Piggott—a 55 year-old transgender woman from Boise and Pride Foundation Scholar—was one of fifty attendees from across the state at 2016’s Activist Academy.
“I want to increase my understanding of the legislative process and my ability to get my message heard by our legislators,” Piggott says. “It’s easy to feel that we aren’t a part of the process, and I wanted to reduce that feeling.”
Piggott goes on to explain, “These trainings are important because our Legislature prefers to do its business away from the public eye—and we are asserting that the Capitol is our statehouse, where we let them do the people’s business.”
Recently, many grassroots activists concerned with local non-discrimination laws have attended the Activist Academy in order to successfully get the Idaho Legislature to—after a decade of unsuccessful attempts—finally adopt a statewide “Add the Words” bill. If passed, this would protect all LGBTQ Idahoans from discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in housing, employment, and public accommodations.
“Without partner organizations like Pride Foundation, we couldn’t do the educational work necessary to advancing equality in Idaho,” Morales says. “Collaboration builds resources, generates innovative ideas, and allows for a wider breadth of community members to engage on issues that need action.”
In addition to LGBTQ equality, other issue areas covered by the Academy include mental health care reform, Medicaid expansion, helping people who are experiencing homelessness, and creating a more representative government.
“It is our hope that training future leaders on how to talk to their legislators will help bring about lasting change,” Morales says, “and in particular, persuade the Idaho Legislature to protect all Idaho LGBTQ residents from discrimination.”