It took the Senate State Affairs Committee less than 30 minutes this morning to resoundingly vote against extending anti-discrimination rights to roughly 40,000 Idaho residents.
The committee voted against printing a bill sponsored by Boise Democrat Sen. Nicole LeFavour to amend the Idaho Human Rights Act to include protections for gay, lesbian and transgender Idahoans who face discrimination in the workplace, education and housing.
So many people turned out for the vote that the audience spilled into the hallway. Among the faces were supporters Emilie Jackson Edney of Idaho Equality, Jody May-Chang from PrideDepot.com, Amy Herzfeld executive director of the Idaho Human Rights Education Center, a number of interested citizens and one of the state's most vocal detractors on LGBT issues, Bryan Fischer of Idaho Values Alliance.
Co-sponsor Sen. Chuck Coiner, a Republican from Twin Falls, gave a brief opening statement, speaking about the recent Special Olympic Winter World Games in Idaho. He pointed out that the country has come a long way in the games' 40-year-long history, bringing the special, or intellectually challenged, people of the world together to celebrate their accomplishments rather than tucking them out of sight in an institution. He aligned women's rights and civil rights with gay rights and even managed to get in mention of the country's newly elected mixed-race president.
LeFavour, who is Idaho's only openly gay legislator, presented her case by first referencing a long list of co-sponsors and then said at least 20 members of the Idaho Legislature have gay and lesbian family members and are directly affected by this morning's decision. Those legislators would like the opportunity to hold this discussion on the floor, she said.
LeFavour explained the Idaho Human Rights Act by saying that "it provides a process whereby issues of discrimination are brought forth." It's not a hard and fast prohibition of activity, but a process that creates protections, she said.
"In adding sexual orientation and gender identification is, I believe, a way of prohibiting the most egregious forms of discrimination."
But the committee didn't see it that way.
Data didn't sway them; LeFavour pointed out that a Boise State public policy survey reported that 64 percent of respondents believe it should be illegal to fire someone based on sexual orientation. Emotional outpouring from those attending the hearing didn't sway them; watch footage of the hearing and you'll notice a few teary eyes.
After the vote, the room all but emptied, and the large crowd milled about in the second-floor lobby.
Supporter Cori Tremayne, who'd been among the group in the hall only able to listen in, expressed her disappointment over the decision.
"It's disheartening to know there's a bunch of people making our laws and they're still back 20 years."
Jackson-Edney was dismayed that the bill didn't even make it to print this year, unlike last legislative session.
"I think it serves to validate the bigotry and hate in this state. It's a disservice to a lot of hardworking people," she said. "It's a fundamental American concept—equality, humanity—and that wasn't demonstrated here today. It really saddens me."