Refusing to Protect Gay Rights

Add The WordsThe last time we visited Idaho Governor Butch Otter, he was arguing that Idaho does not have an “Anti-Gay” problem and that he has no interest in pushing the legislature to protect Gay civil rights. He was particularly insistent that the Anti-Gay attitude was not hurting business.

Is Otter correct that Idaho doesn’t have an image problem, or a business recruiting problem, because of this Ant-Gay attitude?  One reason to think he is wrong is because of the national attention given to the “Add the Words” protests. Forty-four protesters were arrested Feb. 3 outside the Idaho Senate as part of a failed eight-year campaign to “Add the Words” and extend civil rights protections to gays. Thirty-two were arrested in another protest Thursday. Meanwhile, Rep. Lynn Luker, R-Boise, proposed the Idaho Free Exercise of Religion Act to let people refuse to serve customers whose practices offend their religious beliefs. As a result of public outrage, Luker withdrew the bill last week.

Combined with the fiasco that has resulted from Arizona’s passage of legislation similar to Luker’s, it should be obvious that the corporate world understands the impact Idaho’s image has on their business.

Nevertheless, the Idaho Statesman decided to do some research to see if the Governor was correct. What they found out directly contradicted the Governor

Tech workers  are the kind of young highly educated and highly paid workers that Idaho leaders say they want more of.

But some techies say the welcoming image is being undermined by a sense that Idaho is unwelcoming to gays — a perception deepened by national attention this month to the Idaho Legislature’s handling of gay-rights issues.

“Most techies are on the progressive, ‘you live your life, I’ll live mine’ side of things,” said Ryan Woodings, founder and CEO of Metageek, which makes wireless network equipment. “If you look at some proposed legislation and changed ‘gay’ to ‘black,’ you’d think, ‘wow. This is 1960.’ ”

“Anywhere you recruit, there’s the stigma that Idaho’s an agricultural state and not a high-tech state,” said Mitt Rissell, founder and owner of TSheets, a timecard software development firm in Eagle. “It’s very difficult.”

ClickBank, a subsidiary of Keynetics, opened a second office in a Denver suburb in 2006 because it couldn’t recruit the workers it needed to Boise. Fifty people now work there. Keynetics and its subsidiaries would hire 45 more employees today in Boise if the talent were available, said Eileen Langan Barber, a Keynetics director and co-founder in Boise.

“Boise has all the right ingredients for tech,” she said. “It’s a great place. We have lots of outdoor stuff. Now, we need the rest to attract professionals with college degrees. (LGBT equality) is one of many issues. We need to be more progressive in general.”

How about large corporations like Apple and HP? Do they agree with the Governor that Idaho doesn’t really have an image problem?

Not so, said C.K. Haun, a senior director and developer of technical services at Apple Inc. who lives in Boise. Otter’s statements are “ill-informed and incorrect,” Haun wrote in a letter to the Statesman. “He has not had personal experience because companies, particularly in technology, simply don’t consider Idaho for, partially, its noninclusive reputation.”

One ex-tech executive suggested that Otter couldn’t point to any company — and likely wouldn’t be able to in the future — because no company would say it bypassed Idaho over the sexuality issue.

Friendliness to gay employees “is a business issue,” said Don Curtis, who oversaw 1,600 employees as general manager of Hewlett-Packard’s Disk Memory Division in Boise before retiring in 2000. “You want to get the best people possible. You never want to be taken off of a list as an employer or as a state on the basis of people perceiving it’s not the best place to be. Because they’ll never tell you why they don’t come. You won’t have any data. You just won’t have the best people. That has a corrosive effect over the years.” Curtis added “sexual orientation and gender identity” to HP’s corporate anti-harassment policy in 1992, more than two decades ago.

Governor Otter was not pleased with the Statesman article and confronted the Statesman reporter, Dan Popkey, to let him know his displeasure. Go here for Popkey’s interesting account of the confrontation.
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 All of this would just be interesting political wrangling if it weren’t for the unfortunate fact that political decisions have an impact in the real world. And, the unwillingness of politicians to take a stand for the civil rights has consequences. In the case of gay rights, remaining silent or refusing to act has its consequences. The refusal of the State Legislature to add the words “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” to the Idaho Human Rights Act can be seen as tacit approval for bigots and bullies to harass others based upon their sexual orientation. 
Aware that the State Legislature is unwilling to act, some Idaho communities have enacted anti-discrimination ordinances on their own. Boise enacted an anti-discrimination ordinance in December of 2012 and reported yesterday that it has been a success.

After 14 months Boise Police say the city’s anti-discrimination ordinance that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, is working the way it was intended.

The ordinance passed the Boise City Council in December of 2012. Since then, there have been two complaints. That’s in line with other places that have enacted similar ordinances, but there’s something else happening here that police didn’t see coming. Jubilation, that’s the word the Pride Foundation used the day the Boise City Council added the words sexual orientation and gender identity or expression to the city’s anti-discrimination code.

In the past 14 months only two complaints have been filed, both alleging discrimination from a business that offers services, like a hotel or restaurant.Both complaints came at the end of the year and are still under investigation.

“Even one person is the victim of a crime, police need to be there to defend them and there needs to be ordinances there to defend their rights,” said Chief Deputy William Bones. But Bones says the new ordinance did produce something that was unexpected. There’s been an increase in the number of crimes reported involving people in the LGBT community.

“I do believe that is most likely a correlation to the education and the trust that people have to come forward to the police department,” said Bones.

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Unfortunately, without the Legislature having the political will to act, the sad story of Pocatello High School student, Maddie Beard, will likely be repeated in other communities and at other times.

The Republican Legislative leaders, Brent Hill and Scott Bedke, want to make sure the current session can end March 1st, so they have decided that there is just not the time (or the will) to introduce the “Add the Words” legislation.

A print hearing to introduce protections for gay, lesbian and transgendered Idahoans under the Idaho Human Rights Act has not been held this session. About 75 Add the Words advocates have been arrested in two separate instances during the session in the Idaho Capitol Building.

“I can only imagine the frustration and discouragement for some people over this issue,” Hill said. “People who want to add the words, they’re honest, they’re sincere … they deserve respect and civility. But there are other people who are just as sincere in their convictions.”

Hill and Bedke agreed there is common ground to be found among those interested in protecting religious freedoms and those interested in protecting civil rights for gay people. A “loose coalition” of lawmakers from both political parties as well as representatives from the interest groups are actively working to find a way to find compromise, he said.

“They want solutions more than they just want attention,” Hill said. Bedke said there isn’t the political willpower to take the issue on this session. “There’s not the votes to move those issues, (that) is what that boils down to,” Bedke said.

I can see their point. They had more important things to do this session than worry about the safety of young people like Maddie Beard. They have to protect Dairy farmers from “activists” video taping them while they severely abused their dairy cows. They have to declare the Idaho giant salamander the state amphibian. They have to increase the speed limit it 80 mph. They have to make sure guns are allowed on College campuses. They have to dedicate $2 million to Wolf eradication. 

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