After nine years of pushing for a public hearing before the Idaho Legislature, LGBT-rights advocates reached a new level of desperation this past spring when, in silent protest, they filled hallways and blocked doors in the Statehouse.
More than 190 arrests took place in February 2014 during demonstrations by Add the Words advocates, a group devoted to getting the words "gender identity" and "sexual orientation" added to the Idaho Human Rights Act--protecting gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people from discrimination by landlords, business owners and employers.
On the afternoon of July 21, the final 23 protesters received their sentences from 4th District Magistrate Judge Michael Oths. The courtroom was packed with more than 100 people--many sitting two to a seat and still more turned away due to lack of space.
Each protester was charged with misdemeanor trespassing, most with plea agreements already worked out. They pleaded guilty at their sentencing, and each delivered a passionate statement about why they were arrested.
Former state senator Nicole LeFavour was sentenced first. The former congressional candidate pleaded guilty to two counts of trespassing and was sentenced to 70 hours of community service, court fees and $70 in fines.
"I did what I had to do," LeFavour told Boise Weekly. "We knew what we were doing. It was up to [the lawmakers] to listen to us and instead they chose to have us arrested."
Defendants and their witnesses used the opportunity to express how important the Add the Words effort was. Heart-wrenching stories illustrated the plight of discrimination--mothers who had lost children to suicide, friends who lost friends, and people living in fear of losing jobs and housing, comparisons to the civil rights movement and many quotations from Martin Luther King, Jr.
Judge Oths followed the recommended sentences, but several times applauded defendants for their civil disobedience and willingness to face the consequences.
Other noteworthy protesters sentenced at the hearing included Rabbi Daniel Fink, Add the Words co-chair Emilie Jackson-Edney and 74-year-old U.S Navy veteran Madelynn Taylor--who Boise Weekly readers first met in April, when she told the story of how Idaho rejected her request to be interred with her late wife at the Idaho State Veterans Cemetery (BW, News, "Idaho Says No to Final Resting Place for Veteran and Spouse," April 23, 2014).
"These are the stories that people should have heard nine years ago," LeFavour said. "These are devastating stories."