April 9, 2009 in Idaho

Human rights commissioner’s views prompt debate

The Associated Press

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Senate Democrats opposed reconfirming northern Idaho Republican Ruthie Johnson to the nine-member Commission on Human Rights after she said employers should be able to fire workers for wearing clothing meant for the opposite sex.

Seven Democrats Thursday opposed Johnson, with 28 Republicans favoring her reappointment. Debate lasted about an hour.

The panel protects persons in Idaho from illegal discrimination and also handles federal complaints. Minority Leader Kate Kelly, from Boise, contends Johnson’s views aren’t expansive enough to merit another three-year term.

At her April 3 confirmation hearing, the 85-year-old Johnson, of Hayden Lake, was asked if gays should be protected from workplace discrimination.

She responded, “If someone comes to work dressed in drag, they should be able to fire them,” according to meeting minutes. She also stated that it would “change our culture” if sexual orientation were added to Idaho’s Human Rights Act, a move the commission has supported in the past, but this year voted narrowly to oppose, and that she objects to such a change.

Johnson was first appointed in 2001.

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