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“Add the Words” protesters have returned to the Idaho Capitol, holding silent vigils in the rotunda outside the House and Senate chambers each morning until the morning floor session adjourns; the vigils started late last week. The protesters, who stand silently with their hands over their mouths, want Idaho to add the words “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” to the Idaho Human Rights Act, to prohibit discrimination on those bases. Former state Sen. Nicole LeFavour, D-Boise, said the vigils are “just making it clear we’re not going away, the issue’s not going away.” More than two dozen protesters joined in on Friday; a dozen and a half stood vigil today.
LeFavour said since the House State Affairs Committee voted down legislation to make the change earlier this session on a party-line vote, there’s been lots of talk about a compromise bill. “There’s language out there that we don’t find objectionable,” she said, to deal with protecting free speech concerns and not forcing anyone to endorse something they don’t support. “There are people in here working on things,” LeFavour said. “I think there’s more agreement than I ever realized.”
Cindy Gross, chair of the Add the Words campaign, has issued the following statement in response to the rejection of the bill on a party-line vote in the House State Affairs Committee this morning:
“Emotions are high after hearing three days of powerful testimony from hardworking Idahoans who simply want to be judged on the merits of their work. Although we are happy to hear that some members of the committee are committed to showing more compassion, it’s not enough and we are very disappointed in the committee’s vote. We will see the Human Rights Act updated in Idaho, and we’ll keep working on this issue until all hardworking Idahoans are protected. With these powerful stories our legislators can no longer claim that there isn’t discrimination in Idaho.”
After this morning’s straight party-line vote to kill HB 2, the “Add the Words” bill people on both sides of the issue were reflective. Sen. Cherie Buckner-Webb, D-Boise, a sponsor of the bill said, “We are in a period of mourning – we’re going to have to mourn. But also we’re going to celebrate that the voices were heard, we’re going to celebrate. I see that there’s a lot of compassion. I felt that coming through. … I think our discussion will be more robust, and I am really hopeful that it will happen this year. Our greatest hope is that whatever legislation comes does not make the LGBT second-class. We’re going to mourn a little bit, and then we’re going to be re-energized.”
She said, “It’s not just the LGBT. Most in our communities want to see everybody treated with dignity and justice. That’s how it should be.”
Julie Lynde, executive director of the Cornerstone Family Council and a leading opponent of the bill, said, “I think we all need a little time to rest. I think the hearts of the committee members were really on display today. I think everyone who testified was very brave on both sides of the issue, because you do open yourself up for criticism. … I would like to see us all be more kind and compassionate and loving, regardless.”
Asked about Rep. Linden Bateman’s comment that he’d support a compromise, Lynde said, “I don’t know if there is a compromise. I would certainly sit down and discuss it. But religious freedom and rights of conscience for every Idahoan must be protected in any legislation that comes up. Once a government can coerce somebody to violate their deeply held religious beliefs, every citizen’s liberty is at risk.”
More than 50 backers of the bill stood along a statehouse hallway outside the meeting room in silent protest after the bill was killed, standing with their hands over their mouths, the same stance that protesters took last year in demonstrations calling for a hearing on the bill. This year's intense, three-day hearing followed nine consecutive years in which lawmakers refused to grant the bill a hearing.
The amended substitute motion, to send HB 2 to the full House with no recommendation, has failed on a straight party-line vote, with the committee’s four Democrats voting in favor, and the 13 Republicans against. As the committee moved on to the substitute motion – to both approve the bill and recommend that the full House pass it – sobs were heard in the audience. The vote on that one was identical.
The original motion, to hold the bill in committee – killing it – passed on a similar party-line vote, 13-4.
Afterward, a subdued House State Affairs Chairman Tom Loertscher, R-Iona, said, "My thanks to all of you for your diligence in seeing this process through. We do appreciate all of those who have participated in this process." You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.
Rep. Kathy Sims said, “This has been 21 hours of some very compassionate testimony and I’ve listened to it all. But you know, the time I spent on Idaho’s Human Rights Commission taught me that mediation and compassion can be effective for both sides. I’m sure that eventually the Idaho Human Rights Commission will be chosen to deal with this. But definitions do matter, especially when you have two sides. And I know that we can’t ever legislate self-worth. That’s something you build on every day. So I’ll be voting to hold it in committee. But I’m sure that eventually we’ll continue to listen and we’ll continue to work and the Human Rights Commission will deal with this.”
Rep. Melissa Wintrow, D-Boise, said, “I do think it’s the government’s responsibility to say who are the most vulnerable of our citizens, and who needs that protection.” She said, "I do not believe that human rights should be decided by popular vote. In our testimony, there were far more yes's' than no's. That doesn't matter to me." She recalled how Idaho's congressional delegation backed the 1964 Civil Rights Act even though it was highly unpopular in Idaho at the time. "Allow this to get to the House, let everyone vote on it. It's a huge issue for our state. It's waited nine years."
Rep. Tom Loertscher, R-Iona, the committee chairman, said, “Every member of this committee has changed because of this process. None of us here, as we’ve gone through this hearing, can honestly say that we have not been changed in our hearts and in our minds, because we all have. I don’t know the right word to use when it comes to the cruelty that has been experienced by people who testified here today. And I have to tell you that there’s no excuse for that cruelty, and as the chairman of this committee, and as an Idahoan, and as a legislator, I’m calling on the people of this state to stop the cruelty. It has no place in our society. And as a result of that, I’m calling on people everywhere to get over themselves, get on, get past all this, and to be less cruel or more favorably stated, kind in your approach to people who you may perceive that are different from you.”
Among comments from committee members on HB 2:
Rep. Brent Crane, R-Nampa, said, “When I was asked in a public forum if I would support ‘Add the Words, I said no. And I believe in this process that your word is your bond, and that when you make a promise, you keep that promise.” He said, “Definitions do matter, words do matter. If you’re going to add words, we need to know what those definitions are. … Lawyers love it when you do not define things. … If we’re going to add the words or talk about adding the words, they need to know what is sexual orientation, or what is gender identity.” He said, “There is a tension between someone’s rights based on their sexual orientation and gender identity, and another’s rights based on their sincerely held religious beliefs. I do not believe that HB 2 as it’s written will solve that tension.”
Rep. Vito Barbieri, R-Dalton Gardens, said, “There’s no question but the testimony here is heartbreaking. I can’t deny the compassion that is stirred in me listening to these stories, and I certainly feel no animosity to anyone in the LGBT community. There’s no question in my mind that persecution, violence and abuse against the community, or any community, it needs to stop. Criminal behavior needs to stop. Laws haven’t stopped that behavior. A change of the heart, of each heart, has to happen to stop criminal behavior, and to date throughout mankind that hasn’t happened.” He said “You have to recognize that in crime there are predators, and those predators will use anything they can use.” He said ensuring equal access to public restrooms for transgendered people isn’t a problem “unless you’re a predator, and can use the loophole to continue your behavior.”
Rep. Pete Nielsen, R-Mountain Home, said he believes in the golden rule, treating others and you’d want to be treated yourself. “The only way that’s going to happen is when everybody’s mom and dad teaches their kids proper, proper attitudes toward everyone,” he said. “Now the Savior went on further and he at the Sermon on the Mount reinforced all of that.” He said he heard nothing about the Add the Words issue during his campaign. But now, he said he’s hearing from people in his district. “It’s running over 9-1 against,” he said.
As the House State Affairs Committee debates the three pending motions regarding HB 2, the "Add the Words" bill, here are some of their comments:
Rep. Linden Bateman, R-Idaho Falls, said he’s learned much from the three-day hearing on bill. “From this point on and forever, I will be kinder and I will be more compassionate to those who bear a heavy burden,” he said. “While I will support the original motion, I’d like to go on record that I will support a compromise.”
Rep. Paulette Jordan, D-Plummer, recalled words from her grandfather about discrimination. “He said granddaughter, when I went off to World War 2 and when I came back, the first thing I experienced were the businesses that had, even in our own land, signs that said, ‘No dogs and no Indians allowed.’”
Rep. John McCrostie, D-Boise, said, “This isn’t a gay guy casting a vote for the gay bill. You need to know that I cast my vote in a thoughtful and deliberative manner, one that is representative of the people in my district, one that reflects my constituency … and one that represents the LGBT community in Idaho.” He said, “I understand fighting for equality issues, because I deal with it daily.”
Rep. Melissa Wintrow, D-Boise, offered a substitute motion to send HB 2 to the full House with a recommendation that it pass. “We know that tolerance and inclusion is the way,” she said. “Let it get to the floor for everyone to weigh in. I think our state deserves that.”
Rep. Elaine Smith, D-Pocatello, offered an amended substitute motion, to send the bill to the full House with no recommendation, “to allow all House members to vote on this important issue.”
Sen. Cherie Buckner-Webb, D-Boise, gave a stirring closing statement in support of the "Add the Words" bill. “I ask for your support for HB 2,” she told the House State Affairs Committee. “It’s fair, it’s just, and it’s worthy of your yes vote.” She said, “I know what it’s like to walk in fear and uncertainty," recalling growing up in Idaho as a fifth-generation African-American, whose family had a cross burned on their lawn after they moved into their home in the same neighborhood where she lies now. "I know what energy it takes to constantly be on guard. And I am proud to be your colleague. I am honored to serve the people of the state of Idaho to work hand in hand with you for the betterment of our state.”
Following her statement, Rep. Ken Andrus, R-Lava Hot Springs, moved to hold the bill in committee. "We have come a long way," he said. "I think this very hearing has brought us a long, long, way. I wish every employer, I wish every landlord could have heard your stories, and I think they will, through this hearing, I think they will hear your stories. Do not despair. I think we will have legislation. I think because of this hearing and because of things that have happened this week, we will have legislation. Do not despair. Your concerns are legitimate, very legitimate. And people in Idaho, in the Legislature, have heard you and are hearing you." But he said he doesn't feel that HB 2 also protects religious freedom.
People are filtering in to the Lincoln Auditorium in the Capitol this morning for the House State Affairs Committee meeting; the panel is scheduled to vote on HB 2 after three days of hearings. Monday through Wednesday, 190 people testified on the bill, 134 in favor, 54 against, and two neutral. The bill would ban discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity in housing, employment or public accommodations.
This afternoon’s hearing on HB 2, the anti-discrimination bill regarding sexual orientation and gender identity, went about 40 minutes past its scheduled 5 p.m. cut-off. "We do appreciate your participation in the process, and we do sincerely want to thank you for being here," House State Affairs Chairman Tom Loertscher said. He said the committee will convene in the Lincoln Auditorium tomorrow morning at 8. The sponsor of the bill will make a closing statement, "and we will have debate and a vote on the bill."
This afternoon, 36 people testified, all but four strongly in favor of the bill. They included gay and transgender Idahoans of all ages, parents of gay and transgender children, co-workers and friends, siblings, college students, military veterans, business owners, religious people, activists, nervous folks speaking in public like this for the first time, people of various political persuasions.
Caleb Hansen said he’s a Republican. “The issues before this committee are not of a partisan nature,” he said. Ty Carson told the committee, “Thank you for your patience in hearing nine years of testimony.” Laura Doty said, "I was fired when they found out I was a lesbian. I called the Idaho Human Rights Commission. They told me they could not do anything because I was not in a protected status. … I was a decorated police officer. … I was fired for no reason more than that I was a lesbian. … I was completely dehumanized. HB 2 says I am a human, I am a human. Please pass this bill. Find it in your hearts to protect people like me who do nothing but want to work."
Here's the final tally on the testimony: 190 people testified over the three days. Of those, 134 spoke in favor, 54 spoke against, and two were neutral.
Rep. John McCrostie, D-Boise, told former Sen. Nicole LeFavour, “I want to congratulate you on finally getting your hearing after nine years. … Could you tell this body what it was that made you decide to bring forth legislation like this?”
LeFavour responded, “I don’t know if you can imagine what it’s like to be the state’s first openly gay elected official. I was the first gay person a lot of my colleagues thought they had ever met. … When I was first elected, many people didn’t think they’d ever met anyone gay. Not only that, but out around the state, people didn’t have a lot of people in their communities they could look to to have conversations about this. They didn’t know who to go to if they faced discrimination, if they had been the victim of a hate crime, or if their child had taken their life because he or she was gay. So when I was elected, I started to get phone calls.”
“Those are the phone calls that would have gone to the Human Rights Commission had there been the possibility that they could have dealt with those issues. But instead they called me. They called me when their kids took their lives. They called me when they were beaten in an alley. They didn’t always call the police. … Believe me, after eight years of that, and trying in every way to get all of you to try to help me do something about this, I knew it wasn’t an option just to do nothing. So Mr. Chairman and committee, I stand before you having tried with every fiber of my being to help you see why this matters, and that real people are on the other end of this, and that that balance between religious freedom and our lives is one that only you in your hearts can find the truth for.”
McCrostie responded, “Senator, I don’t know what it’s like to be the first openly gay legislator, but I know what it’s like to be the second.” Rep. Melissa Wintrow, D-Boise, asked LeFavour if she’s imagined what it would be like tomorrow if the committee approves the bill.
“I think there would be a lot of people who would go to work the next day with less fear,” LeFavour said. “There would be a lot of young people who’d been considering taking their lives who might have more hope.”
Among the 18 people who have testified this afternoon on HB 2, the “Add the Words” bill, 14 in spoke in favor, three against, and one was neutral. Among those testifying:
Nicole LeFavour, who was Idaho’s first openly gay state legislator, told the committee, “The question before you is a fairly simple one, and the people of Idaho are looking to you, and the vote you make tomorow morning with a question, and that question is will it be acceptable in the state of Idaho to fire, evict and refuse service to gay and transgender people in our state. … You will make a decision as to whether this state will say the harm that you’ve heard today is acceptable or not. I ask you when you make that vote that you remember the stories, of the people who have struggled in this state to work hard, to be judged by their work performance and qualifications, and to live on with some hope that the world will become a better place for them. … I hope that you hold these stories with you ‘til then, and you realize that the state is waiting to know what your answer is.”
Wayne Hoffman, president of the Idaho Freedom Foundation, spoke out against the bill. “If you don’t pass HB 2, this discussion of discrimination, how to stamp it out, will still happen, and it’ll happen in the private sector,” he said. “This is an evolving area that can be addressed by the free market.”
Julie Hoefnagels cited “a clear parallel with the other great civil rights issues of our age,” saying, “Biblical passages were cited in support of all those unjust situations.” She said, “On the topic of homosexuality, Pope Francis recently said, ‘Who am I to judge?’ Society is clearly evolving. We should accept this, and focus on the fact that some within our society, the LGBT, are still being denied basic human rights.”
Testimony: ‘Bound under one Constitution, not one religion,’ ‘Harassed every single day,’ ‘It can be asserted as a defense’
In more testimony this afternoon on HB 2, the bill to ban discrimination in housing, employment or public accommodations on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity:
Scott Nicholson said he grew up in the South and saw “whites-only” restrooms, drinking fountains and the like, “much of which was justified via religion – it seems rather unbelievable now, but that is the case.” He said, “We’re all on our own paths, but we are joined together under one Constitution, not one religion. … They’re just folks who want the same things I do and you do when it comes to equal treatment.”
Fiona Kilfoyle told the committee, “I am transgender, I am also bisexual. … I am lucky to be in a situation where I can live openly, as my employer is a multi-national corporation and has its own policies on discrimination. … This does not mean that I am not harassed every single day, on the streets and in the stores of Boise. … What this legislation will do is will allow us to live without fear that we will be fired or evicted for who we are.”
Rep. Ilana Rubel, D-Boise, highlighted the Idaho attorney general’s opinion she requested on HB 2, which concluded that the bill would not force clergy to marry gay couples, and would not impair the First Amendment rights of any Idahoan. “There is a means to provide those protections against discrimination and protect those bakers, and it is provided under existing law,” she said. She pointed to Idaho Code 73-402, “Free Exercise of Religion Protected.” “It can be asserted as a defense in any action, whether brought by a government or an individual,” she said. Rep. Lynn Luker, R-Boise, said his interpretation is that Idaho’s religious freedom law only applies to actions by a government, not court actions between individuals; he said that’s what prompted his unsuccessful bill last year aimed at religious freedom.
Rubel, who like Luker is an attorney, said the law applies to “a person whose religious exercise is limited.” She said, “My understanding is it has been asserted in claims brought before the Human Rights Commission.” Idaho’s religious freedom law passed in 2000.
In testimony so far this afternoon on HB 2, the “Add the Words” bill, seven people have testified, five for the bill, one against, and one undecided.
Christine Antoniuk said, “Our son would not ever willingly subject himself to the hardship and ridicule that being transgender entails. Members of the committee, I’m sure that you are also proud of your children and grandchildren. … We now worry for his safety. We worry that he will be bullied or ostracized or even worse. My stomach lurches when I think about his prospects in a place where just being different is frowned upon. … Our son can now be denied service in a restaurant, be singled out in a bathroom in school, or be denied from entering school sports teams just because of his gender identity.”
The Rev. Guy Perkins, a Boise native who spoke out in favor of the bill, told the committee, “It seemed the boys at school knew my orientation decades before I realized it. Yet in testimonies we are concerned how can you tell. Well, evidently the community can tell, because people are bullied for it.”
David Stout said after his employer, Hewlett-Packard, passed a policy protecting against discrimination based on sexual orientation, he experienced reverse discrimination, being sexually harassed on the job by gay co-workers. “A hostile environment took place at Hewlett-Packard. … Nobody should ever have to endure sexual harassment of any sort, teasing or anything,” he said. “Harassment in this country should not be tolerated, regardless of what form it comes in.” He said he couldn’t say if he’s for or against the bill. “I’ll let you legislators make your decision based on what you think,” he said.
"We will not be taking a vote today, but we will tomorrow," House State Affairs Committee Chairman Tom Loertscher, R-Iona, announced at the opening of this afternoon's portions of the hearing on HB 2, the "Add the Words" bill. "I think we can get through everyone that’s here."
The House State Affairs Committee hearing on HB 2, the “Add the Words” bill, has recessed for the morning; it’ll reconvene at 3 p.m. “We will not be having a night session tonight, so we will go ‘til about 5 this afternoon,” said Chairman Tom Loertscher, R-Iona. This morning, 36 people have testified, 32 of them strongly in favor of the bill. Three spoke against it, and one was neutral.
As he left, committee member Rep. Ken Andrus, R-Lava Hot Springs, said, "It's very revealing, very, very revealing. I wish everybody in this state would hear this testimony."
Loertscher said, "We'll be lucky if we can get through all the testimony (this afternoon). I'm hoping that we do. It's gone quite a bit faster today, though I hate to put time limits on it." If testimony is concluded this afternoon, he said, the committee likely will debate and vote on the bill in the morning. "As soon as we finish up, we'll debate and vote," he said.
The tally on the testimony so far: Since Monday, 154 people have testified, 102 in favor, 51 against, and one neutral.
With time running out for this morning’s portion of the hearing on HB 2, people who passed up notes saying they couldn’t return this afternoon are being called up, but urged to be very brief. Among those speaking:
Michael Reineck told the panel he’s an Air Force veteran who served in Vietnam, and his son interviewed Gov. Phil Batt as a 6th grader at Lowell Elementary for a school project. “What a state,” he said, where that can happen. “He graduated from Boise High, graduated from Columbia, and he’s one dissertation away from a Ph.D from Princeton. … But now, as a gay man, he will not return to Idaho to live. Why? He would not be secure here in his job and housing. Without this bill, my son will not return to Idaho.”
Jordan Brady told the lawmakers, “I know that you are tired, I’m tired too. I’m tired of having to take time off work and school to sit here. … I’m tired of being compared to a pedophile. … I’m tired of reading the news and hearing the news that another trans child killed themselves because their world was filled with so much hate. … This bill isn’t just about housing or jobs. This bill is about human lives.”
Deborah Ferguson, the lead attorney in the lawsuit that successfully overturned Idaho’s ban on same-sex marriage, said, “One, this non-discrimination provision has been passed in many states and many cities in Idaho, and all have been successfully implemented. Two, I agree with the statement submitted to the committee by Brian Kane, deputy attorney general, the attorney general’s opinion of HB 2 and the conclusion of the attorney general that the bill does not force any clergy to marry same-sex couples and would not impair any Idahoan’s freedom of speech.” Third, she cited the recent poll commissioned by Zions Bank that found that two-thirds of Idahoans believe it should should be against state law to discriminate against gays, lesbians and transgender people in housing, employment and business. “This is the majority of Idahoans whom you represent,” she said. “I urge you to pass HB 2 … to reflect the views of a majority of Idahoans.”
More from today’s HB 2 testimony:
Gretchen Bates said, “Imagine if Rosa Parks got off the bus to find another.” Things wouldn’t have changed, she said. “Religious liberty must have limits when it hurts someone else.” Breaking into tears, she said, “A few years ago my best friend's son and his transgender partner jumped … off the Perrine Bridge. … I cannot imagine the sadness and hopelessness that they must have felt. … Me, tell gay and transgender people just to go away? … Matt and Amy believed that they had nowhere to go, so they chose the escape of death. … Your support of HB 2 will create an environment where young people feel valued, accepted, safe and welcome. I’m 68 years old and I am so proud to stand with all of these brave young people here. I’ve never been that brave. Thank you.”
Stefan Cavin told the lawmakers that as a College of Idaho freshman looking for a part-time job, he was rejected for one waiting tables after he truthfully answered a question about his sexual orientation. He was attacked and beaten in Boise by attackers shouting anti-gay epithets and didn’t report it to police out of fear; Cavin said he regretted that decision later after letting getting to know Boise Police Chief Mike Masterson. “All I’m asking is to be judged by my qualifications, my character, my performance,” Cavin said, urging the panel to pass the bill. “This is my time of need. I need you to stand with me.”
So far this morning, 35 people have testified, just two opposing the bill and one neutral; all the rest spoke in favor. There have been tears, laughter, and many deeply personal stories shared.
More from this morning’s testimony, which has been heavily in favor of HB 2, the “Add the Words” bill:
Hannah Brass Greer referred to earlier testimony from HB 2 opponents about Facebook’s many options for people to identify themselves. “It’s a good thing we don’t have to base our laws on Facebook definitions,” she said. “Sexual orientation means heterosexuality, homosexuality or bisexuality.” She said, “Absent these protections, people in Idaho live in fear every day. … Updating the law won’t end unfair treatment overnight. However, updating the law will help ensure that all people who want to work hard and contribute to their communities are treated fairly.”
Mistie Tolman said, “I was born and raised here in Idaho. I live in Meridian with my wife and four children.” Breaking into tears, she said, “Sorry, this has been a long time coming, being able to stand in front of you and testify in a public hearing. Maybe I was naïve, but I wasn’t expecting to come here these past two days and hear my friends, my family and the people I love have things said about them that I refuse to repeat. My friends like Emmy and Danielle, treated horribly and had salacious things said about them because they look different from me. I’ve even received a threatening voice mail since this hearing started. The comments that have been made the last two days alone are reason why we need to update the Human Rights Act. I am here today as your sister, your friend, your neighbor. I know what it’s like to be afraid of losing my job if somebody found out that I was gay. I lived with that fear so much myself, that at my job I would withdraw from personal conversation with my boss or my coworkers. … I didn’t talk about my weekends if I could help it. I didn’t have pictures of my family at work.”
Emily Shannon told the committee, “By the time I entered middle school, words like ‘dyke’ were hurled at me. Teachers would not stop them. … I held onto the hope that high school would be better. Sadly I was wrong. In high school … epithets were hurled at me still, I was shoved into lockers, and my car was vandalized, the word ‘dyke’ scratched on it.’” When she went to school authorities, they offered no help, she said. “One counselor even suggested to me that perhaps if I didn’t look so gay, kids would stop harassing me. … I never felt safe.” She said, “I implore you to pass HB 2, not only for me, but for every single teenager in Idaho questioning what their life will be. Give them hope.”
From this morning’s testimony on HB 2:
Madelynn Lee Taylor told the committee, “You all know my story, you’ve read it in the newspapers, trying to get my wife interred out at the Veterans Cemetery. That was discrimination.” She said, “I lost two jobs for being gay. If we had this law, I would not have to sue the state just to bury my wife.” At the conclusion of her testimony, committee Chairman Tom Loerscher told her, “Thank you, sir.” Amid laughter, Taylor, whose short hair was newly styled, said, “I went to the beauty shop and asked them to make me presentable – this is what they did.”
Amid more laughter, Loertscher told the next person to testify, Judy Cross, “Please tell me who you are, because I think I’ve lost track.”
Cross said, “Our honorably elected officials, it is your chance to make a difference. … I urge you to find the compassion in your hearts that you have for all of your constituents in this great state and send HB 2 with a do-pass to the floor.”
Of the 20 people who have testified on HB 2 so far this morning, in the first hour and a half of testimony, just one has opposed the bill, and one other said he wanted a delay rather than a yes or no vote. All the rest strongly supported the bill, which would ban discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations based on sexual orientation or gender identity. From this morning’s testimony:
Bill Rath read from the 1st Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. “I ask you please not to let the beliefs of a few trample the rights of the majority,” he said.
Sterling Mortensen, the only one this morning to speak directly against the bill, said, “I believe there is good and evil in the world. … What I’m most worried about is when you make legislation, you’ve just made a tool… It can be used as a weapon too.” He said, “This is not the same as race, this is sex, and sexual morality. The feelings run deep. … There are people with evil intent and I am worried. … Please don’t unleash these people with new powers to do things. … You can’t sweep conscience under the rug, you can’t sweep religious beliefs under the rug.”
Robert Spencer, an Episcopal priest from Eagle, said, “I’m not sure I like change. … All of us fear something in our lives.” He said, “I came out in my 40s, after I moved to Idaho.” In his church, he said, “We’ve arrived at being able to bless unions between same-gender couples.”
John Fritz, a high school senior, said, “I am terrified for my future, where one person who thinks I’m a monster has the power to ruin my life.” He said he transferred schools because of complaints about his being gay. Rep. Brent Crane, R-Nampa, told Fritz, “I’m sorry for what’s happened to you. I too have experienced bullying. I have had my family threatened. I’ve had my life threatened. I’ve had my home egged. I’ve had threats upon my children to be raped. I understand some of the hurt, some of the fear, some of the concerns that you have, so if you don’t mind, I’d like to step outside with you and tell you some of the things I have done that have helped me get thru some of the difficult and dark times in my life.”
Testimony: ‘Growing up gay in Idaho was difficult,’ ‘There’s people being hurt,’ ‘Dignity and respect’
More testimony this morning on HB 2:
Steve Martin of Boise told the committee, “I did not choose to be gay. … I can tell you that growing up gay in Idaho was difficult. I was always afraid.” He asked the lawmakers to pass HB 2 to protect him and his husband of 20 years. “You as our state leaders need to pass this bill to send a message that discrimination against anyone … is wrong. … All of us deserve the opportunity to earn a living, to provide for ourselves and our families without fear of being denied housing, being fired, or being refused service at a business because of who we are. … We all deserve the right to live our lives openly, safely and genuinely.”
Aiden Warrior said, “Being transgender from female to male, I’ve been judged harshly every day. My biggest critic was me.” His voice breaking, he said, “There’s people being hurt and we’re dying. Please don’t let someone hurt the people I love. I’m outing myself so you can protect them. … Transgender people are notorious for getting bladder infections; this is because we’re terrified of using the public restrooms. .. .The locker room, I’m there to change and leave, nobody’s ever noticed me.”
Emily Van Hise, canon pastor at St. Michael’s Episcopal Church, said, “Of course we know that we cannot legislate kindness and love, but we can pass legislation that tells the citizens of our state in no uncertain terms that we in Idaho will not stand for treating any of our citizens, or even any of our visitors, with anything less than the dignity and respect Christ showed the people that he encountered.”
Testimony: ‘History repeats itself,’ ‘Adults followed my 11-year-old son around,’ ‘Idaho is too great for fear’
So far this morning, 10 people have testified on HB 2, the bill to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, all of them in favor of the bill. Among them:
Jill Gill, a professor of American history, said she’s a historian who specializes in civil rights and religious history. “History repeats itself,” she said. She told of reading hundreds of letters that Idaho Sen. Frank Church received from Idahoans regarding the 1964 civil rights bill. “At one point, Frank Church said the letters were running 10-1 against the civil rights bill in Idaho,” she said. “The huge volume of letters he received … showed that Idahoans were overwhelmingly against passing that bill, and the arguments were similar … to what we’ve heard in the last few days on HB 2.” She said Idahoans objected that businesses would lose the ability to hire and fire at will; that whites would encounter blacks in private spaces; and that God’s natural order would be violated. “Those letters are kind of embarrassing to read today,” she said. Despite them, she said, Church and the rest of Idaho’s congressional delegation voted for the 1964 bill and “put Idaho on the right side of history.”
Mary Anne McGrory said her son was harassed at the age of 5 for wearing a pink Barbie track suit. Then, “While shopping in Pocatello … adults followed my 11-year-old son around, calling him ‘faggot.’” She said, “After much soul searching and counseling and hospitalization for suicidal ideation … my son beame my daughter. … She is so much happier and she is no longer suicidal. … We’ve heard before, do unto others as you would have others do unto you. But I would ask you to do unto others as you would have others do unto your own child.”
Patricia Truman said at age 66, she’s lived more than half her life in Idaho, and all of it in fear because of her sexual orientation. “I knew I’d have to hide,” she said, “but I signed on for a teaching job here because I had taught for 10 years and those 10 years gave me the gift of knowing that I was meant to teach children and that I did it well.” She held up an anonymous note she received years ago while teaching. It suggested she resign, “because ‘the majority of parents are quite aware that you are a lesbian.’ Which wasn’t possible because I was closeted.” She said, “I tried my best to keep calm and carry on for the sake of my students.” During her sixth year of teaching in Idaho, a reluctant co-worker was ordered to check her lesson plans every morning. “That was clearly harassment,” she said. “I did leave teaching at the end of that year. Ironically, that took being brave too, but I simply needed some respite from the fear. Idaho is too great for fear.”
At the opening of this morning’s hearing on HB 2, the “Add the Words” bill regarding discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, House State Affairs Chairman Tom Loertscher, R-Iona, announced, “We’ll be using a timer today. … We’re really appreciate it if you’d hold your remarks own to three minutes or less.” He said, “We have heard an awful lot of testimony. … We’ve been lectured, we’ve been preached to, we’ve had a number of things happen here. But please, be very concise in your testimony.” He said this morning’s hearing will run until 11:30, and then the committee will resume taking testimony from 3-5 p.m. Asked by a reporter if the committee will vote on the bill today, Loertscher said, “Probably not.”
An Idaho Attorney General’s opinion on HB 2 concludes that the bill as written would not force clergy to marry gay couples, and would not impair any Idahoan’s freedom of speech; you can read it here. Both questions were posed by Rep. Ilana Rubel, D-Boise, who also asked the Attorney General to address whether federal or state laws already exist to protect gay or transgender people in Idaho from discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations.
“This question cannot be answered with a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ because the relevant law is not settled,” wrote Deputy Attorney General Brian Kane. He noted that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 bans discrimination on the basis of sex; the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees equal protection of the laws; and the Idaho Human Rights Act and the Fair Housing Act prohibit discrimination based on sex. “Idaho anti-discrimination statutes do not contain a specific prohibition with respect to sexual orientation or gender identity,” Kane wrote.
Tonight’s portion of the two-day hearing on HB 2 has wrapped up; the House State Affairs Committee heard from 25 people tonight, just three of them opposed to the bill, and all the rest in favor. Committee Chairman Tom Loertscher, R-Iona, said the committee will meet again in the morning at 8 a.m. “We will not have an evening meeting tomorrow night,” he said. “If we are able to, we will meet later on tomorrow, possibly right after lunch. We do have to take up on the floor again at 11:30 in the morning, so we will go until 11:30. We will take the time necessary. … We may start imposing time limits tomorrow, not to exceed three minutes.” Plus, he said, “We are going to limit testimony to those who have already signed up.”
The tally on the testimony over the two days: 118 people have testified, 70 in favor of the bill and 48 against. All told, 796 people signed in for the hearing, 408 of them in favor of the bill and 301 against; 353 indicated they wanted to testify.
Testimony: ‘End a special wrong,’ ‘Commission serves a great function,’ ‘Being gay was not a choice’
In continuing testimony tonight on the “Add the Words” bill:
Ben Wilson, a board member of the Interfaith Alliance of Idaho, said, “It is unfair and not an Idaho value at all to discriminate against anyone in the employment or social marketplace. … No one here wants to undermine religion. … We seek only today to end a special wrong that exists, allowing discrimination and inflicting harm on others. And ending that special wrong I think is an Idaho value that we all hold dear. … What if people could fire you or not rent their house to you because you are Mormon or Methodist or Jewish?” He added, “The testimony that we have heard the past few days about sexual deviance and pedophiles and rapists is outrageous, and does not reflect this community that’s before you today.” He said studies show the vast majority of pedophiles are straight, but that doesn’t mean people should discriminate against all straight people.
Rep. Brent Crane, R-Nampa, asked Wilson if he could guarantee that members of the LBGT community won’t sue members of the religious community if the bill passes. “There’s a clash of ideas that takes place in the public square,” Crane said. “Walls begin to go up, and suspicion and distrust take place.” Wilson said, “I think we’ve had nine years that we’ve tried to have that conversation take place here in this building. And it’s been denied. And so I respect your concerns, and I wish that those concerns had been addressed here a long time ago.”
Marilyn Shuler, the retired longtime director of the Idaho Human Rights Commission, said she thought it would be helpful to fill the lawmakers in on how the commission works. “The commission serves a great function in the state of Idaho. You rarely hear criticism,” she said. “There are all kinds of extraordinarily sensitive cases that come to the commission daily. They handle all kinds of things. They do it confidentially, privately. It’s done to try and resolve disputes before they ever become lawsuits. People can go to court, but very few do. The surveys are run after the commission closes a case, and the people who have been accused of having discriminated, they feel that our processes are fair. You don’t need an attorney. It’s not a scary process, and the commission tries to weed out frivolous complaints at the beginning.”
Shuler, who said she supports HB 2, told the committee, “I’ve thought this has been a wonderful two days. I appreciate what you’re doing very much.”
Joseph Ambrose Christopherson noted earlier testimony asking if next someone would want to protect people who are short or bald. “They don’t get fired or evicted from housing for being bald or hairy, unless they have like 10 cats in their apartment,” he said to laughter. “I was fired simply because I was gay – simply because I was gay. No, being gay was not a choice, nor was it part of my diabolical plan or some gay agenda. … Yes, you can choose your religion. I couldn’t choose to be gay. I was born this way, I didn’t ask for this. Now I accept it because I love myself. I’m just someone who wants to be honest, to have love, and to not be fired for being gay.”
From testimony tonight on HB 2:
Larry Chase told the lawmakers, “Never in my business career have I ever seen any difference between gay or straight workers.” He said he once had to respond to an age discrimination complaint at the Idaho Human Rights Commission that was determined to be unfounded; he didn’t have to hire a lawyer, and the matter was quickly resolved. “If you run your business correctly and fairly, you will have few problems with discrimination laws,” he said.
Kenneth Watts, a hospital chaplain, urged passage of the bill. “It is the right thing to do, and it is the right time to do it,” he said.
Astrid Wilde said, “I love Idaho, I really do, and I want to call Idaho my home, but right now it’s hard.” She said she is not gay; she is a trans woman. “Believe me when I say that I know you feel threatened by my presence in a restroom, you’ve made that very clear, but I mean no harm. All I know is that nowhere is safe. There’s nowhere I can go.”
Linda Brown, who spoke at length in opposition to HB 2, said she was born in Tunisia, but can’t check the box saying she’s African-American. “They want to claim that what is inside their head is their true sexuality. It’s not logical,” she said. “Observable facts reveal that I am Caucasian. Screaming that I am African-American at the top of my lungs will not change that fact.”
Kati Durkin, a high school senior, told the committee: “By not having these four words in the Idaho Human Rights Act, we’re explicitly telling people they don’t matter. … This message is the same one that African-Americans heard in the 1950s. … I feel that there’s absolutely no reason to deny anyone in Idaho the ability to feel safe and secure in their day-to-day life.”
Kelly Miller, executive director of the Idaho Coalition Against Sexual and Domestic Violence, spoke in favor of HB 2. “What we know is true is that if anyone’s rights are diminished, all are diminished,” she said. “We envision a world where all people have ability to thrive and fulfill their real potential. … We need to respond to everyone who is a victim of sexual violence, and without HB 2, that can’t happen in our state.”