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Senate Vote Nixes Protection For Idaho Gays, Lesbians

A party-line Senate committee vote rejected changes to the state’s Human Rights Act to protect gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people from workplace and housing discrimination.

All session, a low-key “Add the Words” campaign to update the act with the words “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” has been working to win at least an introduction.

Friday morning’s hearing was short, lasting less than 10 minutes – enough time for a tearful plea from Democratic Minority Leader Edgar Malepeai to give the bill a full public vetting.

After Republicans rejected the bill, there was shock and disbelief in the packed audience, with some crying and others saying, “That’s Idaho.”

Advocates in Idaho Falls said they were disappointed, but not defeated.

Elizabeth Cogliati was one of them.

“For me, I just think that it’s wrong to discriminate against people,” said Cogliati.

Current anti-discrimination law protects a person “on the basis of race, color, religion, sex or national origin,” and age and disability in some cases.

“We’re talking about the ability to survive when it comes to employment and housing, education,” said Jody May-Chang, a supporter in Boise.

Republican Sen. Russ Fulcher said he respected those who want the changes, but “It was just a clash of world views.”

“Nobody here believes in discrimination or discriminating against anybody, but at the same time I don’t think we want to continue to create special groups and special categories,” said Sen. John McGee, R-Caldwell.

“I wouldn’t say it’s a special category,” countered Cogliati. “Idaho is an at-will employment state, so if it’s not named in legislation, you could be fired for it.”

Cogliati said, in such a conservative state, it takes time for some issues to come to the fore-front, but she believes the change will come.

“I won’t venture a prediction as to when,” she said.

Supporters at the statehouse blanketed the capitol walls with sticky notes, and met outside the committee room to sing “We Shall Overcome.”

Despite setback, Add the Words campaign still growing.

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