After nine consecutive years of the legislation being denied a public hearing, Idaho lawmakers heard fiery debate on a sex-orientation bill on Monday, where LGBT rights advocates clashed with religious freedom supporters over the bill that, if passed, would create protections for large swaths of the gay, lesbian and transgender community in the state.
Also known as "Add The Words," the legislation would add "sexual orientation" and "gender identity" to Idaho's Human Rights Act — which already bans discrimination against race, sex, color, religion, and national origin in situations like housing or employment — extending anti-discrimination safeguards to the LGBT community.
As of Monday morning, more than 500 people had signed up to testify in front of the House State Affairs Committee. Those present were actively divided into two camps: Idaho's LGBT advocates who shared personal stories of discrimination, and those who worry that the bill would suppress freedom of speech and religion in the state. Those opposing the bill consisted mainly of pastors, small business owners, and national conservative organizations, the Associated Press reported.
Supporters of the bill pushed for years for a public hearing, and the movement reached an apex when protesters rattled the Idaho Statehouse in 2014 with a streak of civil disobedience protests that led to more than 190 arrests throughout the session. The protests forced right-leaning legislative leaders to concede that a public hearing was due.
The president of an Arizona-based group, United Families International, Laura Bunker, pointed out incidents in other states where businesses were sued for refusing to serve same-sex couples getting married. According to the AP, Bunker said at the hearing (accidentally referencing Utah, instead of Idaho):
In the end, these non-discrimination laws are not fair to all. Someone is ultimately discriminated against. Why would Utah, or Idaho, sorry, want to put that kind of wedge between its citizens?
One person, Julia Zicha, who spoke up for the legislation, recalled her son, who, on top of facing housing and employment discrimination, suffered from physical abuse and other forms of bullying, and after sending his parents a text message telling them it wasn't their fault, killed himself in 2011. Zicha, who began working with at-risk LGBT youths after his death, told the committee:
I knew this was a goodbye message.
Others who opposed the bill, however, were against the idea that Idaho required governmental intervention to prevent discrimination in the state. The AP reported that resident Doyle Beck said:
I'm somewhat offended that this bill has been introduced and is seriously being debated. It implies that Idahoans are nasty people and that we discriminate against our neighbors unless the government somehow intervenes and comes in to straighten us out. I'm not saying that discrimination doesn't exist, but I am saying that it's very minimal.
Currently, 18 states, including Washington D.C., have anti-discrimination legislation that covers sexual orientation and gender identity. In Idaho itself, AP reported that 10 cities already circumvented the state to pass their own anti-discrimination laws.
Image: Getty Images (2)