March 2, 2014 in Opinion

Smart Bombs: A more tolerable intolerance

By The Spokesman-Review
 

Lord, have mercy! Did you see what almost happened in Arizona?

Gov. Jan Brewer pulled the state’s fanny out of the fire by vetoing a bill that would’ve given special legal protections to those who discriminate for religious reasons. Crisis averted. Cancel the boycotts. It’s safe to plan that spring training visit, and don’t forget the golf clubs.

Sure is nice that Arizona has come to its senses by settling for the more tolerable form of bigotry. The kind practiced in more than half the states. The kind where it’s legal to discriminate against gay, lesbian and transgendered residents when it comes to housing and employment.

You’re gay? You’re fired!

But let’s say that’s not good enough for you, and you’re looking for another battlefield. The nearest one is in Idaho, where Washingtonians love to frolic in the lakes and mountains, and then return to a state of tolerance.

Gay-rights supporters have been trying to add the words “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” to the state’s anti-discrimination statutes, which already offer protections based on race, religion and gender. After eight years, the Legislature has yet to grant them a hearing. To “commemorate” the silent treatment, activists have swarmed the Capitol with taped mouths and “Add the Words” T-shirts. As of Friday, 122 of them had been arrested.

Oddly, this has not sparked a media firestorm.

And what would Idaho lawmakers hear if they had the courage to listen? The Utah Legislature held its first such hearing last Wednesday, and the Salt Lake Tribune and Deseret News described it as emotional but respectful.

A father spoke of the moment his 15-year-old son told him he was gay, “The fear was not knowing if I would be able to protect my child from the intolerance of the outside world.” A mother and father lamented their son’s wish to attend college in another state because of the discrimination he might face in trying to land a job or rent an apartment. A high school student recounted the daily hallway banter peppered with “dyke” and “homo” references. A young man said he was fired from a credit union upon the discovery of an email he sent about the death of a gay partner.

If you think this isn’t happening in Idaho, listen to former Gov. Phil Batt. In an Idaho Statesman op-ed, he wrote about a gay grandson who felt marginalized, so he dropped out of school and left the state. His sister followed. They’re both thriving in California, but they’ve told their grandfather they could never move back as long as Idaho sanctions bigotry.

These are the stories that reflect the everyday reality of Idaho. But, wow, have you heard about Arizona? It’s an outrage.

Down to Business. State-sponsored discrimination will probably continue in Idaho until economic pressure is brought to bear. That was the tipping point in Arizona, despite the governor’s high-minded rhetoric. When lawmakers understand that it takes more than tax breaks and low wages to lure businesses, they’ll come around. Gov. Butch Otter touts those selling points, but the result is the highest percentage of minimum-wage jobs in the nation.

A recent Bloomberg News article noted, “Eighty-eight percent of Fortune 500 companies have policies that prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, and 62 percent provide domestic partner health insurance to their employees.”

Corporations don’t want to be associated with discrimination. It’s bad for business. Plus, they have diverse workforces that expect acceptance.

Discriminatory statutes also hurt tourism. Marriott International sent a letter to the Arizona governor, stating: “It is exceedingly difficult for us to sell Arizona as a destination against a backdrop of negative attention suggesting certain travelers or conference attendees would not be welcome here – as a matter of law.”

Gay-friendly is business-friendly. So at some point the question for Idaho Legislature will be, “Why are you hostile to business?”

Associate Editor Gary Crooks can be reached at garyc@spokesman.com or (509) 459-5026. Follow him on Twitter @GaryCrooks.


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