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Gay rights protesters arrested in Idaho Capitol

Protesters block Senate President Pro Tem Brent Hill, R-Rexburg, from entering the Senate chambers Monday at the Idaho Statehouse in Boise. (Associated Press)
Protesters block Senate President Pro Tem Brent Hill, R-Rexburg, from entering the Senate chambers Monday at the Idaho Statehouse in Boise. (Associated Press)

BOISE – More than 40 gay rights protesters were arrested Monday in Idaho’s state Capitol after they blocked every entrance to the Senate chamber, standing silently with their hands over their mouths and wearing T-shirts asking lawmakers to enact anti-discrimination protections for gays in the state.

The protesters, who began arriving at 8 a.m., want the Idaho Human Rights Act amended to add the words “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 4 Words” bill has been proposed for each of the last eight legislative sessions. It has never gotten a full committee hearing. Earlier this session, bill sponsors Sen. Cherie Buckner-Webb and Rep. Grant Burgoyne, both Boise Democrats, announced they’d 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 has 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.

Monday 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.

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