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“A country run by idiots”

Audience comments during the Spokane City Council’s debate over adding gender identity to local civil rights protections were at times so graphically vile that Councilman Jon Snyder suggested it was evidence of why the ordinance is necessary.

Former state Rep. John Ahern, for example, warned of increased rapes and other violent crimes that he believes would escalate if men dressed as women were allowed to use public restrooms. Another audience member described cases of sexual torture that included setting victims on fire. A woman who drew a mustache on her face and dressed as a man (pictured) took to the podium to declare that America is becoming “a country run by idiots.”

The proposal was approved Monday night on a 5-2 vote, with several councilmen calling the tenor of the testimony “offensive.” Among them was Councilman Mike Allen, who opposed the measure on technical grounds but joined others in expressing disappointment over some of the more vicious comments made by audience members.

Allen said he’s worried that by adding local protections, which already are provided under state law, it would open the city to litigation if lawsuits ever arose over something like equal access to school locker rooms. He said he’d prefer to let the state pick up the tab for that kind of legal fight.

The proposal also added local prohibitions against discriminating based on military status and disabilities. It was proposed by the city's Human Rights Commission. A video of Monday night's meeting can be seen here. The gender identity issue is toward the end.

ITD agrees to drop requirement for transgender drivers to show proof of surgery to get driver’s license

The Idaho Transportation Department this week agreed to new regulations allowing transgender drivers to change the sex designation on their driver's licenses without a note from a surgeon, the Associated Press reports, after two people complained that previous policy violated their civil rights. In April 2011, the state highway agency began requiring a signed surgeon's note signifying the individual “had undergone a complete surgical change of gender.” Early this year, two people said they were blocked from getting their driver's licenses, based on this policy.

Only a fraction of people undergoing a gender transformation do so through a surgical intervention, according to the National Center for Transgender Equality, a Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group; others utilize hormone treatments. The agency will now require a court order or affidavit from a doctor attesting to a gender change, rather than requiring proof of surgery, according to a policy signed by director Brian Ness on Monday. Click below for a full report from AP reporter John Miller.

Sandpoint Bans Sex Orientation Bias

Sandpoint city attorney Scot Campbell walked along downtown Sandpoint on Wednesday. He drafted Sandpoint's new non-discrimination ordinance for sexual orientation and gender identity. (SR photo: Kathy Plonka)

Sandpoint Chamber of Commerce President Kate McAlister wasn’t expecting it when a woman in her 60s walked up to her at a community event, hugged her and started crying. “She said, ‘I want you to know that because of what you did, for the first time in all our lives I can take my partner to a Christmas party without fear of being fired,’ ” McAlister recalled. This was after McAlister helped push through a citywide ordinance in Sandpoint barring discrimination in employment, housing or public accommodations based on sexual orientation or gender identity. In Idaho, it’s still legal to fire someone because they’re gay, or to evict them from their home or deny them service in a restaurant. But it’s no longer legal within the city limits of Sandpoint/Betsy Z. Russell, SR. More here.

Question: Are you surprised that Sandpoint was the first city in Idaho that has banned discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity?

No Hearing Set For Anti-Bias Bill

Since 2007, state lawmakers have rejected legislation to ban discrimination in Idaho against people who are gay, lesbian or transgender. And Republican Sen. Curt McKenzie says this year will be no different. McKenzie chairs the Senate State Affairs Committee and says he doesn't plan to schedule a hearing on a bill introduced in the 2011 session to ban workplace and housing discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity/Associated Press. More here.

Reaction?

Bill Would Expand Anti-Bias Law

Idaho’s state Human Rights Commission has endorsed legislation adding sexual orientation to the state’s anti-discrimination law. Just two years ago, the commission opposed such legislation and lawmakers refused to introduce it. This year, the legislation already has been introduced, and Senate Minority Leader Edgar Malepeai, D-Pocatello, pictured, says he’s hopeful lawmakers will consider it, especially now that the Human Rights Commission has voted 7-2 in favor of it. … At least 20 states, including Washington, ban discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. But Idaho lawmakers have rejected the idea repeatedly over the past decade, most recently in 2009. That year, the commission voted 5-4 against backing it/Betsy Russell, Eye On Boise. More here.

Question: Will the 2011 Legislature expand the anti-discrimination law to include sexual orientation and gender identity?