Eye On Boise

Lawmakers hear presentations on amending Idaho Human Rights Act

House and Senate State Affairs Committees hear presentations on Wednesday morning on amending the Idaho Human Rights Act to ban discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. (Betsy Russell)
House and Senate State Affairs Committees hear presentations on Wednesday morning on amending the Idaho Human Rights Act to ban discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. (Betsy Russell)

In the Lincoln Auditorium this morning, the House and Senate State Affairs committees are assembled for a presentation about amending the Idaho Human Rights Act to ban discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, though no bill is before the committees. “Many of us feel impatient about it, and I know that the progress cannot be made without … good understanding,” Sen. Cherie Buckner-Webb, D-Boise, told the committees. “We have before you five people who will be doing presentations and a number of people from our community that are able to answer questions.”

First to speak was Don Curtis Sr., a retired general manager from Hewlett-Packard, who shared his “personal journey of understanding.” He said, “I remember realizing my own sexual orientation around age 10 or 11, in about the 5th  grade, when I began to realize that girls are attractive.” He said, “I had never made a choice. I was oriented sexually the way I was created, and was conveniently blind to believe everybody else … (was) the same way, heterosexual.” Curtis said he assumed that anyone who wasn’t had chosen to be different. But he learned otherwise when he had a gay son.

Mistie Tolman of Add The Words told the committees, “Nobody should have to live in daily fear of being fired.” She described hiding from co-workers the nature of her family life, putting off questions, for example, about her “husband.”  “There is no protection for you, and you are very aware of it,” she said. “You keep yourself at arm’s length from everyone, especially your boss.” She said, “The simple question before you today is whether gay and transgender Idahoans must continue to live as second-class citizens.”

Under current Idaho law, people can be fired from their jobs, or denied housing or access to public accommodations, for being gay. Mike Masterson, Boise police chief, told the lawmakers, “Trust is the basis for the social compact that we as police officers have with those we serve. … However, that trust can be jeopardized when the citizens we serve lose confidence in our ability to protect them.” He described a violent attack against a man perceived to be gay, and said, “People aren’t reporting crimes because they fear being outed to their employers.” Masterson said that situation promotes crime and threatens justice.

He said 90 days ago, the city of Boise passed an ordinance to ban discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity - the same change that's being sought for the state Human Rights Act. Since then, he said, his department hasn't received a single complaint. Boise is one of several cities around the state that's now taken that step.




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Betsy Z. Russell
Betsy Russell covers Idaho news from the state capitol in Boise and writes the Eye on Boise blog.

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