Eye On Boise

Tears flow in courtroom, as witnesses share teens' stories

Julie Zicha, testifies about the suicide death of her 19-year-old son Ryan, Zicha, who she said faced housing and employment discrimination because of his sexual preference while living in Idaho, on Monday, July 21, 2014. Zicha testified on behalf of the defense during a sentencing hearing for 23 Add the 4 Words Idaho protesters in the Ada County Courthouse in Boise, Idaho. The 23 defendants, who were arrested earlier this year, pled guilty and were given community service and a fine. (AP/Idaho Statesman / Kyle Green)
Julie Zicha, testifies about the suicide death of her 19-year-old son Ryan, Zicha, who she said faced housing and employment discrimination because of his sexual preference while living in Idaho, on Monday, July 21, 2014. Zicha testified on behalf of the defense during a sentencing hearing for 23 Add the 4 Words Idaho protesters in the Ada County Courthouse in Boise, Idaho. The 23 defendants, who were arrested earlier this year, pled guilty and were given community service and a fine. (AP/Idaho Statesman / Kyle Green)

Julie Zicha, whose gay son, Ryan, committed suicide, was the first witness called by the defense at the “Add the 4 Words” sentencing trial this afternoon for state Capitol protesters. Zicha said she believes it’s critical that Idaho amend its Human Rights Act to ban discrimination against gays. “I think every moment we wait we risk losing more and more kids,” she said. Occasionally breaking down in tears, she told the court, “I lost my son Ryan in January of 2011. My son was gay and he took his life at the age of 19 after three years in Pocatello, just the climate of intolerance, hatred. He was discriminated against when it came to jobs and housing.”

When he first arrived in Pocatello from Spokane as a 15-year-old 10th grader, Zicha said Ryan was a straight-A student and a life scout in the Boy Scouts. “He was very strong and capable and self-confident,” she said. “Within just a very, very short time in school he started being first verbally harassed and then it moved to violence.” At one point, 15-year-old Ryan was pulled out of a party by three young men “who literally dragged him out in the snow and they beat him,” Zicha said. “By the time the semester was over, the first semester, my son was failing, for the first time ever – he was failing in school and just desperate to get out of Pocatello.”

ZIcha said she and her husband arranged to have Ryan return to grandparents in Spokane to finish school, but when he was 18, he had health problems and she brought him home so his parents could help him, figuring he was done with high school and the bullying would be over. Instead, Ryan was turned away from jobs and rental apartments for being gay, she said. In January of 2011, he drove up into the snow at the Pebble Creek ski area and shot himself to death.

Zicha was followed by Carmen Stanger, whose gay daughter, Matty, a Pocatello high school student, committed suicide on Feb. 18, 2014. “And on Feb. 20 is when one of the protests took place. And had I not been planning my daughter’s memorial, I would have been beside Nicole LeFavour on behalf of my daughter. But instead there were many people there beside Nicole that were carrying her picture.” Sounds of sniffling filled the courtroom as Stanger spoke. “One life lost is too many, and you can’t put a price on that, absolutely cannot,” Stanger said. “My daughter wanted so much to live and stay in Idaho.”

As she stepped down from the witness stand, defense attorney Dan Skinner passed boxes of tissues to the audience. LeFavour, a former Idaho state senator, is the first protester up for sentencing this afternoon.




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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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