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Transgender equality

Boise City includes transsexuals in its discrimination policy

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In the end, all it took was a quick vote by the Boise City Council.

But the routine matter of revising the city's employee policy manual was enough to make Nikki Leonard cry, because for the first time in its history, the City of Boise now includes specific references to gender identification in its anti-discrimination policy.

For someone like Leonard, who was born a male but has been living as a woman for the last two and a half years, the news was nothing short of revelatory.

"This is huge," Leonard said. "It's a really progressive move for Boise to make. It's one of the things that makes Boise such a great place to live."

Boise already has policies against discrimination of other kinds, including against gay employees, said City Council President Maryanne Jordan.

"I wanted our policy to be inclusive," Jordan said. "When you really think about it, a discrimination policy that doesn't include one group is by its nature discriminatory."

The policy was adopted in a unanimous vote by the Boise City Council late last month, but done as part of a routine consent agenda, Jordan said.

Currently, neither Jordan nor Leonard are aware of any Boise City employees who might identify themselves as having gender identification issues. In other words, they feel they do not belong with their birth gender. Nor are they aware of cross-dressers or people who, like Leonard, have lived as the opposite gender for a while.

But Leonard, who is the co-chair of Your Family Friends and Neighbors, a gay-rights advocacy group in Boise, said it was only a matter of time before the city had transgendered employees.

Nationwide, more and more cities are creating anti-discrimination laws that explicitly include transgendered people, according to the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, a Washington, D.C., advocacy group.

"They realize that sexual orientation alone doesn't cover the issues that people face," said Rep. Nicole LeFavour, a Boise Democrat and the Idaho Legislature's only openly gay member.

In the Pacific Northwest, cities with such laws tend to be larger urban areas such as Seattle, Wash., and Portland, Ore. But Bend, Ore, which has a population of about 53,000 people, also has such a law. Boise is the first city in Idaho to include the language specifically, although McCall does prohibit making employee decisions based on "sexual preference" in its employee manual.

Corporate America tends to lead the way on such policies, Leonard said, because they are trying to attract employees. Hewlett-Packard, which has a substantial presence in Boise, includes specific language covering gender identity in its employee handbook, which makes sense to Jordan.

"We view our employment policies very much as an economic development tool," Jordan said. "We don't pay as much as other organizations do. The main thing we're looking for is talented employees."

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