BOISE, Idaho — At least 105 gay rights demonstrators filled the Capitol's basement corridor Tuesday seeking to convince Republican lawmakers to update the Idaho Human Rights Act with discrimination protections based on gender identity and sexual orientation.
The action was organized again by former Idaho state Sen. Nicole LeFavour, a Boise Democrat who directed the demonstrators up and down the hall. LeFavour, Idaho's first openly gay lawmaker, has long sought protections for gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender individuals and has been at the forefront of protests this year in which a total of 76 arrests have taken place.
LeFavour has been arrested twice, though Tuesday's event ended without incident. In addition to covering their mouths with one hand and maintaining virtual silence, many of those who participated held photocopied pictures of gay or lesbian teens who committed suicide.
LeFavour remains focused on pushing the issue to a hearing this session, even though Republican lawmakers including House Speaker Scott Bedke of Oakley and Senate President Pro Tem Brent Hill have said it isn't ready for such a public forum. The last time a formal hearing was held was 2012, when a bill died in committee.
"We're doing it this year," LeFavour told The Associated Press. "This state, this year, has to say that no person should face discrimination because they're gay or transgender."
A day earlier, however, Hill reiterated to reporters Democrats and Republicans in his chamber have been in discussions over a way to grant gays and lesbians discrimination protections, while also protecting the religious freedoms of people who may object to same-sex partnerships.
Hill didn't define what such a proposal would look like — already, the Legislature has considered and discarded proposals to protect religious people from being forced to serve gay and lesbian customers — but said he respects both sides and wants to give them time to work out differences before a public hearing.
"I can only imagine the frustration and discouragement over this issue for some people. The people that want to 'Add The Words' are honest, they're sincere, they're motivated by compassion and conviction, they deserve respect and civility," Hill said. "But there are other people who are just as sincere in their convictions. Conviction doesn't constitute hatred or discrimination."
Bedke said he thinks both sides — religious groups and gay-rights activists — are seeking the same thing: Protection from discrimination, however they define it.
"To the extent we can foster and encourage this discourse, then I think that will be to the better," he said. "We don't do that when we are yelling at each other."
Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter has also all but closed the door to action on a bill to update the state's Human Rights Act, which currently provides protections against discrimination on the basis of race, gender and religion — but not sexual orientation.
"We probably won't see the words added," Otter wrote in a guest editorial distributed to Idaho newspapers. "But the fact that we're having those discussions, debates and demonstrations says a lot about the health and vitality of our republic. The kind of grassroots involvement and deep-seated feelings about such public policy issues that we see each winter bears witness to the value of our process."
AP writer Katie Terhune contributed to this story.