Reporter's Notebook: Scores of Idahoans Wait to Testify at Add the Words Hearing

by

Stepping into the Capitol Building early Monday morning, one could sense the vibrations of a large crowd. Yet the first, second and third floors of the Statehouse were almost completely empty. But descending to the garden level of the statehouse revealed the source of the cacophony.

Even at the early hour of 7 a.m., the west wing of the Capitol Building was packed. - JESSICA MURRI
  • Jessica Murri
  • Even at the early hour of 7 a.m., the west wing of the Capitol Building was packed.
Several hundred people had filled the entire west wing hallway, all lined up on an historic morning to testify and observe the House State Affairs Committee on HB2—otherwise known as the Add the Words bill. It's taken nine years for advocates to get the ear of a committee in a hearing. From 8 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. and again from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. today, Idahoans will get their chance to testify.

Rev. William Thomas Howie plans to sit through the entire hearing—no matter how long it takes. - JESSICA MURRI
  • Jessica Murri
  • Rev. William Thomas Howie plans to sit through the entire hearing—no matter how long it takes.
One of those voices belonged to William Thomas Howie, a pastor for White Stone Ministries in Meridian. He got to the statehouse at 7 a.m. in opposition of the bill. He said he doesn't plan to testify unless he needs to, and he'll sit through the entire hearing—no matter how long it takes.

When asked about other religious groups that support adding the words "gender identity" and "sexual orientation" to the Idaho Human Rights Act, he said, "these churches that show support have strayed from the word of God."

"If you're going to stand in the face of God and tell him he did it wrong, you've got some—" he stopped himself, and decided not to finish the sentence. "I'll stay [at the hearing] the whole time."

Further down the line, a group of Boise High School students got permission from their parents to miss their morning classes and come to the hearing—though none of them plan to testify. They skipped pre-calculus, Advanced Placement language/composition, AP government and P.E. to stand in the lengthy line. 

"My mom thought it was important that I go. She can't come because she's at work," said Mojan Farid. The teenagers said the Add the Words movement have been a topic of discussion in their government classes, though they said most of their peers are in agreement that the words should be added.

Mojan Farid, wearing the white shirt, along with her friends from Boise High School, missed morning classes to witness what some are calling history. - JESSICA MURRI
  • Jessica Murri
  • Mojan Farid, wearing the white shirt, along with her friends from Boise High School, missed morning classes to witness what some are calling history.

The Lincoln Auditorium filled up quickly, leaving still more than 400 people in the halls, waiting to testify and being herded into three overflow rooms to watch the hearing streamed live

Jennafer Mitchell and her children came from Homedale for the hearing. - JESSICA MURRI
  • Jessica Murri
  • Jennafer Mitchell and her children came from Homedale for the hearing.
In all the bustle, Jennafer Mitchell shepherded her three homeschooled children—ages 7, 8 and 10—toward the front of the line. She drove from Homedale to show her opposition for the bill.  

"Our founding fathers faught for this, for us to be able to speak our opinions," Mitchell said. She said businesses shouldn't be forced to do anything against their beliefs.

"This isn't the Civil Rights Movement," she said. "And it has nothing to do with sexuality. Business owners should be able to choose."

When asked if they were having fun at the statehouse on this historic morning, two of her children nodded their heads half-heartedly while the third scrunched up her face and shrugged. "Kind of," she said. "Maybe it's fun."

At the end of the line, stood retired veteran David Heavener, openly frustrated
David Heavener said he's not here to support or oppose gay rights. He's here to support democracy and representative government. - JESSICA MURRI
  • Jessica Murri
  • David Heavener said he's not here to support or oppose gay rights. He's here to support democracy and representative government.
 about the long wait. He said he expected some sort of expedited process for those wanting to testify, versus those just there to watch. 

"Maybe the statehouse didn't plan for this many people to show up," he said. "Or maybe it's not a priority in the state of Idaho to listen to their people."

Heavener said he was not at the hearing to advocate for or oppose gay rights. He pulled out a small sheet of paper to give his testimony a read-through.

"Idaho's digging it's feet in like a bunch of buried potatoes," he said. "The bill to add the words—its time has come to move forward for a vote by the people, not to be stifled in a committee."

As Heavener spoke to Boise Weekly, the hearing was already underway. Those left in the hallway—waiting for their chance to speak before their legislators—couldn't hear a word of what was happening in the hearing or the full overflow rooms. All they could do was wait.

"I'm feeling very isolated from my government right now," Heavener said. "But you are the press and I'm talking to you. Maybe this is another way for me to testify and for my voice to be heard."