by Josh Gross
Boise Mayor Dave Bieter got what—in most circumstances—would be an unexpected laugh at Tuesday night's City Council meeting at the beginning of what would become a five-hour marathon.
"Would any of you care to testify about the parcel to vacate?" he asked.
And the crowd went wild.
Bieter knew that no one was there to testify on whether the state or city controlled a small downtown alley. And attendees knew that he knew. Hundreds of people packed into the garden level meeting room of the state Capitol. Those standing at the back and those spilling into the hall were there to testify about Boise's proposed ordinance to ban housing and employment discrimination for reasons of gender identity or sexual orientation. And in the wake of the state's failure to even hear testimony on the bill, people had a lot to say.
But first they had to hear a lot about culverts and a little about urban renewal on 30th Street.
It was nearly 8 p.m. before the mayor opened that portion of the council meeting with a lengthy disclaimer to let the audience know that a change of this sort didn't actually require open testimony, and that it could be ended at any time, so speakers should be sure to keep their comments civil and directly related to the city ordinance, not issues with state or the federal laws. He also asked that the audience not clap or boo.
Then Council President Maryanne Jordan discussed her impetus for helping craft the ordinance: a group of LGBT citizens she spoke with that had been assaulted in downtown, but that feared to go to police because they might lose their jobs if they had to explain why they needed a day off to go to court.
"It was completely unacceptable to me that any person in our community could fear to go to court for the possibly of losing their housing or employment," she said.
Council Member Lauren McClean, who was a primary force in crafting the ordinance, spoke next about the importance of making Boise a safe and livable community for all.
"People are working very hard to attract and keep the best employers here," she said. "And we want people to say that Boise is a place where everyone is treated fairly. Ultimately, discrimination is bad for business."
Clarke Krause, executive director of the Boise Valley Economic Partnership, who was speaking on behalf of the Chamber of Commerce, echoed McClean's sentiments.
"We are out selling our community, and the first challenge we face is assuring the world that we have diversity," he said. "Companies that are looking to invest in new areas want to see diversity because that is where they will find new ideas. This sends the message that we are open for business."
Testimony then came from wave after wave of people sharing their stories of discrimination and the hope for the future that the proposed ordinance gave them. People discussed job interviews that asked about spouses, about being the first laid off "because we heard rumors and because we can," and self-described drag queen David Gillespie took her wig off to discuss briefly discuss how much discrimination she had faced.
A particularly moving testimony came from the chair of the statewide Add the Words effort, Misty Tolman, who discussed the terror she felt working at a day care facility, the way she had no pictures of family at work and did all she could to keep her co-workers at arms length, something which harmed her employment.
"Small innocuous questions become the difference between livelihood and not," she said.
"Thank you so much from the bottom of the hearts of the LGBT community for making us feel like we matter enough to have this discussion," she said at the end.
At that point, the audience broke into loud cheers, but quickly switched over to twinkle fingers al a Occupy as the mayor started to take protest.
Breaking into a wide grin, he twinkled his fingers back at them.
"It looks really surreal from up here," he said.
Tom Moons, one of a small group at the back of the room holding an enormous sign decrying sodomy and a resident of Caldwell, was the first to speak against the proposal.
"Good to see you again, mayor," he said. "This is not about gay rights, but about a global agenda of population control." That claim was not well-supported by the rest of his testimony, which had more to do with communism and the difference between God's law and the laws of man. At the end of his speech, he accused the city council of having officially declared the constitution "B.S." with Boise's ban on smoking in bars.
Only the people at the back holding the sign twinkled their fingers for him.
But he was not the last to testify against the ordinance, either.
GOP activist and former candidate for Boise Council Lucas Baumbach said that Martin Luther King Jr. supported equality and that this ordinance was giving special rights to one interest group. His voice quivering, he then attacked the scourge of pornography and sin.
"My favorite politician is Ron Paul," he added.
And then there was perennial political long shot Pro-Life. The sometime contender for several Idaho offices said that passing this ordinance would mean that no more Christians would come to Boise.
But in the end, those supporting the ordinance far outweighed those opposing it. Many of them chose not to even speak, but just to raise their hands and say they supported it.
The meeting lasted nearly five hours. And this was only the first of three meetings scheduled to discuss the proposal.
"It was an honor to be present here and listen tonight," said Bieter. "It's been an amazing night. You can't believe what it's like to sit here and listen to citizens. They did an incredible job."