Add the Words - a plea for inclusion

I attended a forum at my State Capitol the other day designed to engage the public and legislators regarding the Add the Words Campaign, a human rights fight Idahoans have been deadlocked in for at least fourteen years. Add the Words is the name of a political action committee to add four words to the Idaho Human Rights Act, sexual orientation and gender identity. The four words being requested would, according to the Add the Words non-profit, enable “all Idahoans to be free, live and thrive without fear of discrimination, domination and violence.”

As a heteronormative, cisgender person, these words and this request for equality sound fair, reasonable and morally right. I cannot see a problem with the words being added, but I am learning I may be a minority with my thinking.

Apparently, Idaho, or at least its legislative body, which is dominantly conservative, male and mature (I was told that is the more kind word for “older”), takes great exception to allowing equality for gay, queer and transgender people. [For purposes of this writing, “queer” denotes those who are questioning or curious, or do not fall into a true binary or non-binary category. Of note, the word queer is the preferred term in the LGBTQ+ community and is not derogatory when used in a non-slanderous way.]

It seems I had been living under a rock for the past few years and really didn’t understand much if anything, regarding the Add the Words Campaign. But my personal fog has cleared and I am now living in the daylight and am very displeased with what is happening.

In my state, the Human Rights Act bans discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations on the basis of race, gender, religion, age or disability but does not cover discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. What that means is that in Idaho, people can legally be fired from their job, evicted from their home or denied services and accommodation because they are gay or transgender.

Under my rock I thought all people and especially all Idahoans were warm, friendly and inviting and that with the abolition of Jim Crow in the mid-1960’s, discrimination was behind us. I actually moved back to my home state of Idaho when I began my family so my children could grow up and live in a hateless, equality driven environment. I am coming to realize I was wrong with the way certain Idahoans treat others; in that if you do not belong to the chosen religious culture or look and act in the way those people think is “correct” and “normal”, you are not respected, not equal and not worthy of Idaho’s governmental protection.

One of the speakers at the capitol that day was Rev. Dr. Andrew Kukla with the First Presbyterian Church Boise, who spoke on behalf of the Interfaith Equality Coalition. Rev. Kukla’s comments were directed largely toward Senate President Pro-Tem Brent Hill, R-Rexburg, as Senator Hill is the face and voice of the opposition to Add the Words.

Sen. Hill has stated, “Nobody wants discrimination, but there are fears out there that we need to address on both sides.” He has additionally stated, “[C]oncerns remain that affording protections to LGBT persons could jeopardize others’ religious freedoms and rights of conscience.”

Rev. Kukla during his address at the forum stated of Senator Hill’s stance:

“We take deep exception when Sen. Hill seems to speak for all people of faith when he makes the claim that Add the Words and faith have two different agendas. When he presents the false dichotomy that equality is opposed to religious freedom. Or that religious freedom is opposed to equality.

I would remind Sen. Hill that churches have not been good at equality. Churches doubled down on slavery. Churches remain places of deep racial distrust. Churches remain places that force my female colleagues to put clergy collars on just so that they don’t have to explain they really are clergy. Churches have been on the backside of equality forever and the Add the Words issue is no different. We still haven’t learned.

He [Sen. Hill] represents a faith and speaks that it is all faiths, but it is a small sliver of one particular faith. A particular faith that has chosen to take a few small Biblical texts that are relatively obscure in meaning and translation and read them over and against the entire witness of scripture which says again and again, to love your neighbor as yourself. Not just your neighbor, but the stranger, the resident alien… I actually don’t care what Senator Hill thinks of us, his faith demands that he care equally for people he does and doesn’t like. When Jesus says, in the Second Commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” He put no conditions on neighbor. None.

Sen. Hill represents a faith that continues to want to double down on those conditions and they have no place in religious rhetoric. So, while Sen. Hill and the majority continue to have power and continue to ask those who are oppressed to compromise with the poor people in power who can’t handle to lose, it isn’t his faith he is being asked to compromise, it is the particular representation of a hate and a fear. He is deeply afraid of you, of us. And that’s what he’s asking you to compromise. And the answer to that is, we won’t. “

To further address Senator Hill’s concerns about protecting Idahoan’s religious freedoms if the four words were added, the following is a good representation of how protected Idaho’s religious freedoms really are. Showing it is highly doubtful sexual orientation or gender identity would ever step on religion’s toes:

-           Idaho currently has a robust religious freedom exemption specifically protecting people from discrimination based on their religion.

-          Idaho’s Constitution states no person can use religion or religious liberty as a reason to justify “pernicious practices” or do harm to others.

-          The current Idaho Human Rights Act already bans discrimination based on race, color, religion [emphasis added], sex, national origin, age and disability.

-          Idaho’s Human Rights Act balances civil rights with religious liberty with the help of the Human Rights Commission to investigate and mediate in order to protect individuals and businesses in cases of alleged discrimination.

-          Even today some Americans hold religious beliefs based on the Bible’s ideas about slavery and interracial marriage. Yet when race was included in Idaho’s civil rights and human rights acts, religious freedom exemptions were not created to allow people who held these religious beliefs to continue to discriminate by depriving black Americans of their freedoms or by refusing to provide wedding-related services to interracial couples.

-          Many religions deny women the right to own property, marry freely, or exercise other basic civil liberties. Yet when sex was included in Idaho’s civil rights and human rights laws, religious exemptions were not created to allow people to continue to deprive women of their basic freedoms or prohibit them from accessing goods, services or other public accommodations.

-          The first sentence of the Idaho Constitution addresses public accommodation and lists acquiring property among our inalienable rights as individuals. A religious exemption permitting people to refuse to provide gay or transgender people with wedding related goods and services would violate Idaho’s Constitution.

-          If Idaho created an exemption allowing religious people to continue to discriminate against gay and transgender people this would unconstitutionally prioritize in law one religious belief over the beliefs of other religions – those which place priority and belief that gay and transgender people are made in the image of God and deserving of full liberties and inclusion under existing law.

Denying the inclusion of sexual orientation and gender identity sends a strong message to Idahoans that LGBT people are not fully human, not worthy of protection, respect, love, dignity and services and accommodations. It shows that they cannot and should not be allowed employment, housing and shelter and that it is okay to oppress yet another community of individuals because of what others feel as “not normal”.

A final thought, taken from the article referenced above:

If you are Christian, ask yourself, “What would Jesus do?” Would Jesus say you should refuse to bake the wedding cake for your neighbors? Where do we define what celebrating or participation in a wedding is? Is that just making a wedding bouquet and taking photographs or is it renting the wedding gown, the tuxedo or the hall? Selling the paper napkins? Growing the flowers for the bouquets? Fixing the newlywed’s broken car? Renting them their hotel room on their honeymoon? Renting an apartment to their family? Schooling their children? Serving them an anniversary dinner? Allowing them to live in a retirement community? Accommodating the funeral when one of them passes away?

Really – Idaho – wake up! These are our children, our neighbors, our friends, our co-workers, our fellow parishioners. THEY ARE HUMANS who deserve equal treatment and respect. Please do the right thing and write to your congress person, go to the capitol in support, help lobby to Add the Words. By doing nothing and being apathetic, believing it “isn’t about you,” or that it doesn’t affect you, you are allowing inequality, discrimination and lack of inclusion to live in your own back yard. Without protection, gay and transgender people are at an incredibly higher risk of suicide, homelessness, joblessness and violence.

The life you save by standing up could be that of my child, or yours.