State police cite 44 for trespassing after 'Add the Words' protest blocks Senate

February 3, 2014 

Frustrated after eight years of rejection, a group of Add the Words supporters blocked the entrance to the Idaho State Senate chamber at the Capitol in Boise Monday morning. The group members, standing in silence and wearing matching black T-shirts, said they were prepared to be arrested.

“We are here to insist the Idaho Legislature finally add four words, 'sexual orientation' and 'gender identity,' to Idaho’s Human Rights Act to prevent the suicides, beatings, loss of jobs, evictions and the fear that too many gay and transgender Idahoans live with every day," the group said in a news release. "We do this for those who live in fear and those who may despair this year if no one speaks for them."

Various figures were given throughout Monday for how many protesters were involved, but Idaho State Police said they arrested 44 people and cited each for trespassing.

The last arrest came after 11 a.m., when former state Sen. Nicole LeFavour, D-Boise, was taken into custody after the Senate voted to suspend its rule that allows former members to be on the Senate floor. The rules also prohibit former members from lobbying. Majority Leader Bart Davis, R-Idaho Falls, made the motion to suspend the rules; Minority Leader Michelle Stennett, D-Ketchum, seconded the motion. Both said they respected the protesters' right to speak out, but the Senate had to move ahead to conduct the people's business.

LeFavour stood in the doorway to the Senate, hands over her mouth, refusing to move or to talk. The Senate called the roll, had its opening prayer and pledge, then voted to suspend for the day the rule that allows former members floor access. Monday's protest targeted the fact that nothing in Idaho statutes prevents a citizen from being fired or blocked from buying or renting a home based on his or her sexual orientation. There's no federal law offering specific workplace protections based on sexual orientation, either.

Add the Words supporters believe popular opinion is on their side. Boise, Sandpoint, Ketchum, Coeur d'Alene, Pocatello, Idaho Falls and Moscow have all instituted sexual orientation-based protections for gay residents in the past few years. But with the movement being stymied at the state level, the group said it had no choice but to take a more visible stand.

“Gay and transgender Idahoans have tried every means to get the Legislature to consider the ‘Add the Words’ legislation," the group's Monday news release states. "If the Legislature again chooses to ignore us and not hear or vote on the bill, we are prepared to peacefully remain here to bring attention to the issue and the Legislature’s failure to protect those in our community from harm.”

Idaho's majority Republicans again prevented the Add the Words measure from proceeding to a committee hearing this legislative session. Republicans, who control 81 percent of House and Senate, said federal court challenges to gay-marriage bans in states including Idaho made this year a bad time to tackle issues they say are related.

Democrats have accused their GOP counterparts of dragging their feet.

The arrests began around 10:30 a.m., when the public typically is cleared from the chambers to allow for the Senate to begin its 11 a.m. session. ISP said it cited and released its last protester around 1 p.m. Three of the 44 were juveniles.

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