The recent vote to ban discrimination based upon a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity by the Boise City Council was historic in every sense of the word.
From the emotional public hearing to the council’s unanimous vote, the historical significance of the ordinance’s passage was undeniable. No longer would an employee have to, in most cases, be compelled to hide their sexual orientation or gender identity out of fear of loosing their job. No longer would city law side with a landlord who could terminate a lease simply because he or she learned the tenants were a couple and not roommates. No longer could someone legally be kicked out of a cab or denied service in a restaurant simply because the owner suspects the customer might be,”a little queer.”
You could read it on the faces of those in the crowd. Some expressed the joy of the moment, others expressed relief, almost all of them expressed the realization that after years of struggling to simply be who they were, they were now finally equal in the eyes of their fellow citizens.
It was indeed a night to celebrate.
Amidst the celebration, however, I couldn’t help but think about the many areas of our state that have no organized community to speak of. I couldn’t help but think of those living in predominantly right winged small towns and rural areas that still have very real reasons to fear that their sexuality or gender identity may one day be discovered. I couldn’t help but wonder if our celebration, as historic as the passage of the Boise ordinance was, a bit premature.
Last year hundreds of individuals turned out for rallies and candlelight vigils to show their support for a bill that would add the words “gender identity and sexual orientation” to the Idaho Human Rights Act, thousands more participated in the sticky note campaign, they met with their state lawmakers, they emailed dozens of house and senate members and yet, for the sixth year in a row, their voices were ignored.
Some of those who participated in the past have given up.
“Idaho’s just to conservative,” they say. “It will never happen here.”
I suspect their pessimism is about the same as the mother from Burley who, after six years of driving to Boise to ask her legislators to at least give the Human Rights amendment a hearing, told me on the final day of the legislature last March that she was finished, “I just can’t do it anymore. They’ve won.”
Her feeling of defeat in the face of the arrogance of power and grown adults politicking with people’s lives was understandable. But they haven’t won, not as long as there are still people willing to fill in the gap for those who can’t or no longer have the energy. If the passage of the Boise ordinance proves one thing, it’s that very fact.
So where do we go from here?
We celebrate our victories but we continue the fight.
We once again pick up our phones and our pens and ask state lawmakers to stand on the right side of history.
We continue not to take “no” for an answer.
We continue to let those in power now that we will not be ignored and that we will not give up and go away.
We keep working towards the dream of total equality for each and every Idahoan until that dream has been achieved.
You can learn more about the “Add the Words” campaign by clicking HERE.
There will also be an informational panel discussion with city leaders this Wednesday evening, from 6:30-8:00 pm at the Community Center in Garden City. The event is free and open to the public. Click HERE to learn more.