On June 26th, 2015 when gay marriage was legalized in the United States I was camping with my good friend Andrea and her wife, Sam. When we found out the news we were elated! Andrea and her wife had just celebrated their one year wedding anniversary a few months before and now their marriage was recognized throughout the entire country. We all texted friends and family, wrote about the news on our Facebook walls, and changed our profile pictures with a rainbow filter. It was such a big moment for us and such a huge moment in history. Unfortunately, one ruling is not all it takes to create equality. There are still many steps to take for the LGBTQ community, but this step was definitely one to be celebrated.
Idaho Wants to Add the Words
By Chelsy Ranard
Despite the legalization of gay marriage in the U.S., many laws have not caught up to this moment in human rights. Those in the LGBT community may get married in all 50 states, but not all of our state’s offer protection against being fired, evicted, or worse due to their sexual orientation. Because of this inconsistency in the law, many same-sex couples are stuck. Many choose not to get married for fear of outing themselves and losing their jobs.
A 2013 HuffPost/YouGov poll found that 69 percent of Americans think that firing people for being gay is illegal. In truth, there are still 29 states where you can be fired for being gay. Only 22 states and a handful of major cities have enacted laws prohibiting housing discrimination. Arkansas, Georgia, Indiana, South Carolina, and Wyoming still don’t have statutes criminalizing various types of hate crimes against the LGBTQ community although the Matthew Shephard Act is enforced on a federal level. Tax laws haven’t caught up to the ruling and some states allow businesses to discriminate against potential customers based on sexual-orientation or gender identity. These are terrible human rights violations throughout our country that need to be changed.
Adding the words
In Idaho, no provision of law explicitly addresses discrimination on the bases of sexual orientation or gender identity. On January 15, 2015, the House Ways and Means Committee voted to hold a hearing on a bill that adds language banning discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity to the state’s Human Rights Act. It had been denied a hearing in each of the preceding nine years. Unfortunately, on January 29th, the House State Affairs Committee voted 13-4 against the bill. The vote was split right along the party lines. There are 11 cities in Idaho, however, that have ordinances prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity and one has an ordinance prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation only. Idaho’s hate crimes law does not address hate crimes based on gender identity or sexual orientation.
In response to these human rights violations, Add the Words was created in 2010. It is a non-profit activist group advocating for adding the words, “sexual orientation,” and, “gender identity,” to the human rights act. It is actually a conglomeration of two groups: Add The Words, Idaho which is a political action committee, and Add The 4 Words, Idaho which is an all-volunteer direct action group that came together. Protestors for Add the Words cause can be seen organized around Boise’s Capitol Building participating in silent or peaceful protests advocating for equal rights in Idaho. They have plastered the capitol building with sticky notes begging to be heard, held vigils, and wrapped the capitol with protesters holding signs and covering their mouths to represent their government not giving them a voice.
Despite the fact that the Idaho lawmakers haven’t made many moves to add the words, Add The Words is still keeping busy and advocating for those without a voice. The road hasn’t been easy with many protesters being arrested, requests being ignored, and watching a bill fail that was finally seen by the committee after nearly a decade of waiting. The organizers and volunteers for Add The Words are resilient, though, and have vowed to keep fighting until all Idahoans have the same rights.
What we can do
Movements like these are only as strong as the people backing them. For those in Idaho, attend the events, email your lawmakers, talk about the issues, be an advocate. If you live in an area with similar inconsistencies in the laws for the LGBTQ community, research the organizations in your community that want to create the same change. For those that want to help create change in any state without laws to protect the LGBTQ community, you are still free to email lawmakers, seek out national human rights campaigns, or just be an ally. Share stories and spread the word so people know there are still those out there that need to be protected.
One of the most important things you can do for the LGBTQ community and the injustices they face is to speak up as an advocate for their cause. Stand up for what you believe in, vote accordingly, and teach our younger generation that equality matters and that every citizen deserves the same rights as anyone else no matter their sexual orientation, gender identity, race, sex, religion, or national origin.
Each step taken to make the LGBTQ community safe and equal is one to be celebrated. For those in Idaho who are facing discrimination because of their sexual orientation or gender identity, I am excited for the day that I can celebrate laws to protect them from these injustices. For those involved in Add The Words, one day they will be able to say that they created the change that Idaho so badly wanted. Hopefully someday soon we can look back and learn from the time that our government didn’t deem everyone as equal and be happy that our laws now reflect the change we’ve all needed to see.
Photos courtesy of Add the Words, Idaho
Author bio: Chelsy is a writer from Montana who is now living in Boise, Idaho. She graduated with her journalism degree from the University of Montana in 2012. She is passionate about equal rights and is happiest spending time with her animals, travelling with her fiancé, and trying new beer. Follow her on Twitter!