human Rights

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. 

Butch Otter Flailing at Winmills

ToonOtterIPCWhen it comes to human rights, Idaho Governor “Butch” Otter’s moral compass is nonexistent.  He will do or say whatever is politically expedient at the time. Case in point, his stance towards gay rights. For Otter, there is no morality beyond what is good for business- i.e. profit.

Last Tuesday Otter made his annual appearance at the Idaho Press Club and, when asked about recent protests at the Idaho Legislature advocating the addition of “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” to Idaho’s Human Rights Act, and concerns from Human Rights advocates about a bill working its way through the legislature that would give people who refused to hire or serve members of the LTGB community, Otter said that he hadn’t heard any complaints from business, as if that somehow answered the question. As long as his wealthy donors don’t complain, Otter is fine with any sort of discrimination. Otter would undoubtedly be fine with slavery as long as it didn’t hurt business.

Gov. Butch Otter said Tuesday he’s seen no evidence that the Legislature’s opposition to extending civil rights protections to gays, called “Add the Words” by supporters, is damaging business recruitment. Nor has he heard business complaints about House Bill 427, which would add legal protections for people who refuse to hire or serve gays based on their religious beliefs.

“I can’t point to one company that I’ve visited with that said, ‘If you don’t do this,’ or even suggested that was a problem,” Otter told the Idaho Press Club. “I don’t know that companies look to the political. They don’t say, ‘Geez, you’re a really red state, that’s why I’m coming here.’

Otter is facing primary opposition from tea party challenger, Russ Fulcher, so pandering to the farthest right wing of the Idaho Republican party has just begun.

Otter’s political stance has always been that he is a born and bred Idahoan who knows and represents “Idaho values”. Recently, at a function in Craigmont, Idaho, Otter tried to make political points by claiming that U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill is out of touch with Idaho values.

Dan Popkey, of the Idaho Statesman, wrote an excellent article destroying Otter’s alligations by substantiating that Judge Winmill’s Record Speaks for Itself.

I have known Butch Otter since high school and I can promise you that his “values”, as well as accomplishments, are in sharp contrast with those of Judge Winmill.

Dim Bulb Award

dim-bulbIt has become a tradition here at RNWMV to select an illustrious Idaho legislator to win the award of Dim Bulb of the month. The first time the award was handed out was 2007 to Russ Mathews, Republican from Idaho Falls. Just to show how time passes but nothing seems to change, his dim bulb comment was about the Democrat-sponsored measure that would have raised Idaho’s minimum wage to $7.25 an hour. Setting the standard for mind numbing stupidity and lack of rational thinking, Mathews said,

If it’s so exciting and neat to raise it, why don’t we just raise it to $17 an hour?” “Would that be a good idea?

As is always the case, there are numerous candidates for the award this month. For sheer stupidity we could choose the tea party’s Rep. Vito Barbieri. Periodically while the legislature is in session, Babieri tries to add up all the spending appropriated on a Post-it Note and report it to the “people of Idaho”. Unfortunately, when someone with the math skills looked at Cousin Vito’s figures, they turn out to have been exaggerated by about eight-fold. Even the leadership in his own party was embarrassed. Here, for example, is how House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Maxine Bell responded to Barbieri’s antics,

Bless his heart. At first I was stunned, then I was a little angry. Then I got to thinking he will be so totally embarrassed when he realizes how far off he is and his math teacher will be flipping in her grave.

l lukerBut the winner this month is Rep. Lynn Luker, R-Boise, who has introduced a number of pernicious bills this session, none worse that his “Defense of Discrimination” bill. More than 500 people showed up at the Capitol for the House State Affairs Committee hearing. Fifty spoke in more than three hours of testimony, 42 against and only two in favor. The two in favor were members of the ultra right wing Cornerstone Family Council.

Betsy Russell of the Spokesman Review gives an excellent overview of the testimony. Luker seems taken aback by the response against the bill which he disingenuously describes as “correcting a defect” in Idaho’s current freedom-of-religion law allowing people to claim religion as a defense against government action against them, but not to use it in private-party disputes involving a law or government action.

Russell discusses the Constitutionality of the bill,

Meanwhile, an Idaho Attorney General’s opinion raised questions about the constitutionality of both this and another, related bill that’s still pending.

The opinion concluded that HB 427 conflicts with the Idaho Tort Claims Act and could be vulnerable to a constitutional challenge. The bill, according to the opinion by Deputy Attorney General Brian Kane, “could subject employees to personal liability when they are simply doing their job, and a court later decides that the state or local government policy burdened free exercise of religion.”

Kane offered an example: A case in which it was a state prison’s policy not to provide kosher or Halal meals to Jewish or Muslim prisoners, and the prisoners sued. “Then liability could fall upon the employees least responsible for the decisions – those who cook or serve the food,” Kane wrote.

Kane also examined Luker’s other proposal, HB 426, to prevent professional licenses from being suspended or revoked for violations based on the license holders’ “sincerely held religious beliefs.” He concluded that that bill is “likely vulnerable to a constitutional challenge,” and violates both the United States and Idaho constitutions. Luker said he hadn’t yet had a chance to review the opinion, and whether or not HB 426 gets a hearing is up to legislative leaders.

After the recent response to the failure of the Legislature to “add the words” to Idaho’s Human Rights Act, Luker’s feigned surprise over the response to his bills has to be chalked up to sheer dimwittedness, hence, he is this month’s winner