Add the Words protest hits home

Gay rights activists in Idaho have been peacefully assembling on a regular basis within the halls of the Idaho Capital Building for a good part of this legislative session, without much notice or fanfare from our end of the state, particularly in small communities like ours, where we’re more concerned about just squeaking out a living and figuring how to pay next month’s bills.

But it hit home a little harder last week while a group of Idaho publishers, of which I was one, tried to meet with Idaho leaders to discuss our business and community concerns.

We watched as the group, all wearing black T-shirts with the statement “Add the Words” emblazoned on them, locked arms while holding one hand over their mouths, blocking entry to the Senate chambers in the Capital Building rotunda. It was a peaceful protest, but incredibly disruptive for anyone trying to enter those chambers.

What the group is attempting to get accomplished is the addition of the words “sexual orientation and gender identity” to the Idaho Human Rights Act.

Although legislators and other politicians are basically mum on the topic, for fear of being served a subpoena to testify in court, most opponents of the attempt say those protections already exist without adding the words. Proponents say hogwash, that members of the gay community are not receiving those protections and adding the wording would provide them the same rights as heterosexual Idahoans.

We continued to watch as police officials quietly arrested handfuls of the protesters, apparently charging them with trespassing. There wasn’t the slightest hint of violence, yet not a soul attempted to violate their protest by breaking through their blockades to enter the Senate floor and visitor areas.

Personal views on the topic aside, what we discovered, though, was that there are plenty of less visible means to circumvent the blockade. On several occasions we were led up and down back stairways and onto discreetly hidden elevators which delivered us to our intended destinations.

I certainly applaud their resolve, but to be honest their message probably hasn’t been resonating well beyond the reach of the Boise metro area or amongst the more liberal readers in Idaho’s urban areas.

Meanwhile, legislators anxiously, but sometimes unsuccessfully, attempt to avoid any hint of controversy as they try to end this legislative session quickly so they can get back to the real serious business of mounting re-election campaigns.

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