No story comes close; not wolves, not firearms, not the minimum wage... not even Obamacare. As Boise Weekly chronicled the latest series of Add the Words demonstrations--from protests at the Idaho Statehouse to marriage license denials at the Ada County Courthouse--an increasing number of citizens have been reading and engaging with our coverage. In fact, nearly 200,000 people have read and/or shared our reporting at boiseweekly.com and BW's Facebook page regarding Idaho's lack of extended equal rights protections for its LGBT citizens.
While Add the Words advocates have argued for years that the Idaho Legislature is on the wrong side of history, the latest public engagement on coverage surrounding the protests reveals just how deep the divide has become between some Idaho lawmakers and a growing number of their constituents.
To be clear, a few online posts from readers wrote that they did not agree with the protests, but Add the Words advocates are overwhelmingly supported by readers who express incredulity and, primarily, anger at the Legislature's Republican majority for its refusal to consider any Add the Words legislation.
A high-profile sign of tension over the issue came before dawn on Feb. 3, when a line of Idaho State Police cruisers began parking outside of the Idaho Capitol in anticipation of a Statehouse demonstration and possible arrests. Sure enough, shortly thereafter, dozens of individuals began standing in front of the entrance to the Idaho Senate chambers, each protester clad in a black T-shirt reading "Add The 4 Words Idaho," referring to their plea to legislators to add the words "sexual orientation" and "gender identity" to Idaho's Human Rights Act. The protest was silent, with advocates holding their hands over their mouths, indicating the refusal by the Legislature's Republican majority to even hold a public hearing on the matter.
Eventually, ISP arrested 44 protesters, including former Boise Democratic Sen. Nicole LeFavour, all cited with trespassing when they did not move away from the Senate doors. Nearly five hours after the demonstration began, ISP finished processing its citations and released the last of the protesters from custody. By then, BW's coverage of the event, including videos of the arrests, had gone viral and national media had picked up the story.
[ Video is no longer available. ]
Under Idaho law, a citation for trespassing is a misdemeanor and is punishable by imprisonment of up to six months, a fine not less than $25 and not more than $1,000, or both.
Ten days later, many of those arrested on Feb. 3 returned to the Statehouse; and while the theme of the protest was the same, the Feb. 13 demonstration took a different form. Marching single-file, each member placing a hand on another's shoulder, protesters snaked in front of the Capitol before making their way to the entrance to the Idaho House and Senate galleries, where they were turned away because their Add the Words T-shirts, advocating policy, were in violation of the House and Senate rules. Instead, the protesters circled the inner dome of the Statehouse before walking away, still in single-file.[ Video is no longer available. ]
Add the Words spokesman Mike Butts told BW Feb. 13 that he worried not adding "gender identity" and "sexual orientation" to Idaho's human rights law "amounts to codified discrimination and a culture of fear."
"As the law stands now, it's legal to discriminate against gay and transgender Idahoans," he said. "I think it's cruel, and the result is thousands of people in this state live in fear."
Meanwhile, Idaho Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter had already weighed in on the matter, albeit briefly, when he told a gathering of media elite at a Feb. 11 Idaho Press Club breakfast that he couldn't think of a single instance where a company has had second thoughts about coming to the Gem State due to the Legislature's opposition to extend LGBT protections.
"National media bashing Idaho because we seem to be a pretty good target for their dissatisfaction, that's not going to bother me that much," Otter said before telling reporters that he didn't want to comment further due to a pending civil rights lawsuit challenging Idaho's ban on same-sex unions.
Perhaps the plainest, yet most potent, demonstration came Feb. 14, when a number of gay couples appeared at the Ada County Courthouse to apply for marriage licenses. Each was denied.
"It's amazing to me how many people I talk to who don't know I can't get married," Crystal Casias told BW. She and her partner, Kim Hamilton, have been together for seven years and have two children.
Another couple, Lance Mace and Alex Ramirez, were married in Canada in 2004, but their union isn't recognized in Idaho.
"I don't feel like I should have to move somewhere to have equality," Mace told BW.
But Mace, Ramirez, Casias, Hamilton and untold others will have to continue waiting, and occasionally protesting, until more Idaho legislators reconcile their own opposition to Add the Words while a growing number of their constituents feel otherwise.