Last weekend thousands of folks in the Treasure Valley turned out to celebrate Pride.
The month of June has held special significance for the LGBTQ community since the Stonewall Riots, which took place in late June of 1969. Stonewall served as a significant catalyst for the Gay Liberation movement in the years following. In the half-century since, June has been recognized as LGBTQ Pride Month, and many cities–including Boise–hold Pride celebrations around this time of year. Both President Clinton and President Obama issued official proclamations recognizing Pride Month. Notably, President Trump has not done so, despite his own insistence that he is a friend to the LGBTQ community. He has however, declared June (among other things) “National Homeownership Month”. Praise be someone is finally speaking out about the struggles of the underrepresented group of homeowners in America! Finally!
Now that Boise’s 2017 Pride festivities have wrapped up, it seems an appropriate moment to reflect on the status of rights and protections for LGBTQ folks in Idaho, or rather, lack of rights, to be more specific.
While 12 cities in Idaho currently have city-wide ordinances on the books protecting LGBTQ folks from discrimination, the state still lacks statewide protections.
The 2017 Legislative session came and went once again without any hearing for the Add the Words bill, which had the backing of every Democrat in the Legislature. The bill would simply have added the words “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” to the Idaho Human Rights Act, protecting LGBTQ Idahoans from discrimination in housing, employment, and public accommodations. It remains legal in most of the state for LGBTQ Idahoans to be fired, evicted from housing, or denied services just because of who they are or who they love.
The closest the Add the Words effort came to success was in 2015, when the bill was granted a full hearing. The House State Affairs Committee voted along party lines to kill the bill after three days of emotional testimony. Little progress has been made on the struggle for equality in Idaho in the two years since.
An additional bill was introduced this session which would have banned conversion therapy for minors–a practice widely condemned by medical and mental health organizations–as well as prohibit state funds from being used for conversion therapy. That bill, along with the Add the Words bill, died in the House Ways and Means committee without ever getting a hearing in 2017.
The Idaho Human Rights Act is not the only law on the books that fails to take LGBTQ people into account. Earlier this year one of the perpetrators of the vicious murder of Steven Nelson was sentenced to 28 years in prison under the federal hate crimes law, because Idaho’s malicious harassment law does not apply to crimes committed on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.
Hate crimes laws matter because crimes like Steven Nelson’s murder don’t happen in a vacuum: they are intended to terrorize vulnerable groups of people. Nelson was targeted because he was gay. As a society, we recognize the especially sinister nature of hate crimes, which is why Idaho has a law on the books addressing malicious crimes committed on the basis of race, color, religion, ancestry, or national origin. However, Idaho today still doesn’t recognize malicious acts committed against the LGBTQ community as belonging to the same category of offenses as other forms of hate crime. There is a great deal of work to be done to ensure that all Idahoans enjoy full equality and dignity under the law.
While thousands came together over the weekend in Boise it is worth noting that showing up to Pride celebrations once per year isn’t sufficient to protect our community. There are people fighting for our rights every single day that need our support. If you’re a member or ally of our community and your only contribution to fighting our oppression is partying at a festival once a year with some rainbow beads on, you’re not part of the solution. We need you to show up year-round. Donate $5 to Add the Words, write letters to state representatives who refuse to pass any pro-LGBTQ legislation, and press candidates on their stance when they’re running for office.
There’s a long list of actions that our Legislature needs to take to protect vulnerable communities. During this Pride month recommit yourself to letting our legislators know that they must include violence and intimidation against the LGBTQ community in the hate crimes law, they must outlaw the abusive practice of conversion therapy for minors in the state, they must add the words “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” to the Human Rights Act. Any progress that leaves behind LGBTQ people in rural communities, transgender Idahoans, low-income people, or LGBTQ people of color is unacceptable.
Equality is far overdue in the Gem State.