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Eye On Boise

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.”

Betsy Z. Russell
Betsy Z. Russell joined The Spokesman-Review in 1991. She currently is a reporter in the Boise Bureau covering Idaho state government and politics, and other news from Idaho's state capital.

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