BOISE – In a chaotic day at Idaho’s state Capitol on Thursday, 46 gay rights protesters were arrested after blockading a hallway, forcing the cancellation of two Senate committee hearings and barring the committee chairmen from leaving their offices for an hour and a half.
Moments before that protest began, another wrapped up on the Capitol steps. About 230 college students and professors rallied against legislation to permit guns on Idaho college campuses, while about 20 counterprotesters, several of whom had guns strapped to their hips, tried to out-shout them.
The guns-on-campus bill, which already has passed the Senate, is up for a House committee hearing this morning; hundreds are expected to attend. It’s opposed by all the public colleges and universities in the state, along with the state Board of Education.
Clyde Moneyhun, a Boise State University English professor, told the crowd, “Being pro-gun doesn’t mean voting yes on every lame-brained gun rights bill that comes down the pike.” The crowd cheered.
Meanwhile, no hearing has been set on legislation to add the words “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” to the Idaho Human Rights Act to ban discrimination based on those factors, despite eight years of pressure from advocates and a total now of 122 arrests of protesters so far during this year’s legislative session.
“We want to continue to bring attention to the fact that gay and transgender people in the state live in fear of losing their jobs or being discriminated against in other ways,” said Mike Butts, a spokesman for the protesters. “Our plan is to keep demonstrating in one form or another until the lawmakers agree to hear the stories of their constituents about discrimination and cruelty.”
One canceled Senate committee meeting had drawn several dozen people to testify on bills to limit payday loans and on workers’ compensation for firefighters. Senators, lobbyists and citizens waited in the Capitol’s hallways while Senate officials first tried to move the hearings, then decided to cancel them. The meetings will be rescheduled.