In Defense of Dignity

You don't know how slow progress is until you have worked for 15 years on an issue and have had to count movement forward in promised but hypothetical yes votes, numbers of co-sponsors and the quality of conversations you have with those many who have been seemingly dead set against the issue since you began.

There are hundreds of people in Idaho who have worked longer than I have to see some basic level of respect and dignity afforded to gay people by Idaho law. I sit in the middle of the place where this progress is supposed to happen and I see well that we have a choice. We can grow bitter and complacent writing the Idaho legislature off as hopeless, or we can work hard and cling to the incremental progress, to the raw numbers of people willing to put their names on the line, attach themselves to the bill to make this small change finally happen, even in an election year. It is glacial but if you look, there is something there.

This year again there was again of course legislation before the Idaho Senate to add sexual orientation and gender identity to Idaho's human and civil rights laws, just as local governments have now done in Salt Lake City Utah this past fall and in Pocatello, in Boise and in cities and states all across the West over the past decade. This year Idaho's legislation however never saw the light of day. The chairman would not allow it even an introductory print hearing to assign the the bill a number and put it in the state computer. Yet realize that we now have four solid yes votes in the committee, up from the three we had last year, but just shy of the five we need to get the bill actually passed from committee and to the floor of the Senate for a vote. That is progress. In many ways that is huge progress.

Senate State Affairs is a tough committee. It grew tougher for human rights issues when Brad Little left Senate Republican Majority leadership to stand over the Senate as our Lt. Governor. Russ Fulcher, very kind and willing to listen but religiously much more the fundamentalist, took Brad's place in leadership and on the State Affairs Committee. 

Other committees are far less tough and this year's human and civil rights bill would have no trouble being printed there. In one or maybe two committees it might even pass. But State Affairs is the Committee that the Pro Tem and leadership use like a sieve for social issues. Anti-immigrant bills, anti-abortion bills, anti-gay constitutional amendments and now any positive human rights legislation. Yet this is the committee we have to go through to get even a simple hearing, a chance for people to explain why our state will be a better place if we chose as a law making body to legislate that injustice against gay people is in fact also injustice; that it is the policy of the state that discrimination is wrong and that gay people will no longer be omitted — because an omission of such an obvious and targeted group says only one thing: it says that discrimination and denial of basic dignity, human and civil rights to students, renters, business customers and employees in our sate is acceptable. We say every day by virtue of this lingering omission that such discrimination is acceptable.

Idaho is a live-and-let-live state. The fear some of my colleague's feel for this issue is strange in the face of the fact that so many people now know someone gay and that young people can not imagine why we live in a world where such injustice is acceptable policy. Three years ago 64% of Idahoans and a solid majority in every part of the state said that it should be illegal to fire people just because they are gay. What I know is change will only happen when that ordinary majority of Idahoans stop law makers on the street and say kindly that they care, that they support an improvement in Idaho law to extend dignity, civil and human rights to gay people just as we do to all people based on age, religion,sex, national origin, disability and race.

The legislature has heard from gay people for well more than 15 years and our voices I fear sometimes are seen as those of a tiny minority speaking desperately for itself. For a second year I say, we can't do this alone. We need our co-workers, neighbors, parents, friends, classmates, teachers and employers to speak up with us now.

I give deepest thanks to the fearless in the Senate who have stood up for and with us when it was hard: Joe Stegner, Tim Corder, and Edgar Malepeai. To former Senate Majority Leader Bill Roden who, with House Assistant Minority Leader James Ruchti, was ready to present the bill before Chairman Curt McKenzie and the Senate State Affairs Committee, and to the 27 co-sponsors below I say, your actions and bravery mean the world to us. 


Edgar Malepeai, Joe Stegner, Kate Kelly, Elliot Werk, John Andreason, Gary Schroeder, Tim Corder, me, Les Bock.


James Ruchti, John Rusche, Bill Killen, Tom Trail, Wendy Jaquet, Donna Boe, Elaine Smith, Shirley Ringo, George Sayler, Anne Pasley-Stuart, Donna Pence, Sue Chew, Liz Chavez, Phylis King, Branden Durst, Grant Burgoyne, Elfreda Higgins, Brain Cronin.

This list does not include the many Republicans and Democrats who now will vote for the bill when it comes to the floor of the House and Senate, that list is growing long and wonderful. These above are the law makers willing to put their names on the line up front. I hope you will thank them.

To sign the petition in support of next year's legislation and to get involved go HERE.