BOISE – More than 40 gay rights protesters were arrested in Idaho’s state Capitol this morning, after they blocked every entrance to the Senate chamber, standing silently with their hands over their mouths, wearing T-shirts asking lawmakers to enact anti-discrimination protections for gays in the state.
The protesters, who began arriving as early as 8 a.m., want the Idaho Human Rights Act amended to add the works “sexual orientation” and “gender identity;” the act now bans discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations on the basis of race, religion, disability and other factors, but not on those two. All the protesters were arrested and issued misdemeanor trespass citations, so senators could enter the chamber for their 11 a.m. session.
After she was cited and released shortly before noon, Hilary Rayhill, 46, said the long morning of silent protest was worth it. “Sure – they weren’t listening otherwise,” she said. “We’ve got to do something.”
The “Add the Words” bill has been proposed for each of the last eight legislative sessions, but has never gotten a full committee hearing. Earlier this session, this year’s sponsors of the bill, Sen. Cherie Buckner-Webb and Rep. Grant Burgoyne, both Boise Democrats, announced they they’ve been informed they won’t get a hearing this year either.
During the quiet standoff, reporters asked 74-year-old protester Lee Taylor, a Navy veteran who uses a scooter to get around, how far she was willing to go with her protest. Speaking with her hand still covering her mouth, Taylor said, “Boot ‘em all out of office and find someone who’ll listen, I guess.”
The protesters wore dark T-shirts imprinted with, “Add the Words, Idaho; Finally say cruelty to gay and transgender people is wrong.”
Though Idaho’s enacted no statewide anti-discrimination protections for gays, at least seven Idaho cities have passed their own local ordinances granting such protections, including Coeur d’Alene and Sandpoint. The Idaho Republican Party Central Committee last June passed a resolution calling on the state Legislature to invalidate those local ordinances.
Rep. Lynn Luker, R-Boise, has introduced legislation this session to expand Idaho’s religious freedom law to include protections for people who refuse to do business with others on religious grounds; he cited cases in other states including a New Mexico wedding photographer who refused to photograph a same-sex marriage and faced penalties for discrimination, saying a “pre-emptive” move was in order in Idaho. Luker’s bill is pending in a House committee.
This morning’s protests and arrests went quietly, with no disruptions or violence. Senate President Pro-Tem Brent Hill, R-Rexburg, said he asked the senators to stay out of their chamber while the protesters were blocking its doors, to avoid a confrontation.
When 42 of the 43 protesters had been arrested and led away, one remained – former Sen. Nicole LeFavour, D-Boise, who stood alone in the doorway of the Senate. The reason: Senate rules grant floor privileges to former members. She remained there as the Senate began its session; senators filed into the chambers around her.
After the morning prayer, Senate Majority Leader Bart Davis rose to make a motion he said he’d never made before: To suspend Senate Rule 46A, the one that grants floor privileges to former members, for the remainder of the day. He said traditionally, “We welcome … back to the body” former members. “Today appears to be different,” he said. Senate rules don’t permit any person to lobby for or against any bill in the Senate chamber when the Senate is in session, he said. “We want to preserve the right of debate. We want to have a Senate floor that recognizes the traditions of this body, and the historic dignity that we strive for on this floor. And as a result, I am compelled to make this motion.”
The motion to suspend the rule for the day passed unanimously; LeFavour then was arrested with the others. She was Idaho’s first open gay state lawmaker; she left the Senate in 2012 to make an unsuccessful run for Congress.