Now I wish they could show that level of regard for members of their own species: Gays, lesbians, and transgendered people who are being denied the basic right of job, education, and housing security.
It seems as though stories about this issue are all over the press at the moment. Just last week, a jury threw the book at a 19-year-old Rutgers University student who used his webcam to spy on his gay roommate and tweeted about it to his friends. He was convicted of a hate crime and could go to prison as a result.
Earlier this month, Minnesota’s largest school district reached an agreement with the federal government over anti-gay bullying. The district was being investigated for civil rights violations.
Idaho’s a little behind in this respect. In February, the Senate Affairs Committee killed a human rights bill for gays, lesbians and transgendered people without giving it so much as a hearing.
Our upcoming elections might have something to do with the unanimous vote not to introduce the bill, which was sponsored by Sens. Edgar Malepeai, D-Pocatello, and Nicole LeFavour, D-Boise, among others.
The bill would have protected gay, lesbians and transgendered people from discrimination in areas including housing, education, and employment by adding the words “sexual orientation, gender identity” to existing civil rights law. Idaho law already provides those protections against discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, and national origin.
The lawmakers who wouldn’t even allow the bill a hearing in the committee explained that gay rights measures just aren’t part of their culture.
Poor explanation. Like it or not, gays, lesbians, and transgendered people really are a part of our culture – yes, here in Idaho. They work with us and pay taxes just like we do. They have family and friends who care about them.
When you try to deny that, you’re doing more than just hurting the people who face discrimination. You’re making it more difficult for everyone who is trying to build Idaho into a world-class economy that can compete with its neighbors, with other states across the country, and with other countries around the world.
While we’re pouring time, money and energy into improving our math and science education and attracting good jobs and good workers to the state, we’re simultaneously sending a clear signal to a large group of people: Stay away.
Anyone who belongs to a minority group, or who just cares about living in a community that values human rights, is going to see the action by State Affairs that way.
Idaho’s already trying to carve out an identity for itself that goes beyond the traditional potato and overrides the white supremacist image that we can’t seem to shake.
For this year, the damage is done. A panel of nine lawmakers has decided for all of us to send a signal that Idaho doesn’t think an entire class of people deserves protection from discrimination.
When it comes to human rights changes in Idaho, there’s a history of things taking a long time. But eventually, change does come around. Let’s hope next year we have a panel of lawmakers alert enough to realize that acknowledging and respecting gays, lesbians and transgendered people doesn’t just make life better for those people – it positions Idaho to move ahead in the modern world.