A hopeful message ran through a Boise gathering of about 200 people raising money for LGBT students this week: The people of Idaho will not tolerate hate and will not live in fear.
More than $5,000 was raised Thursday at “Stand 4 Steven,” a fundraiser at the Knitting Factory concert house for the Steven Nelson Emergency Fund, a program to help lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students at Boise State University.
Nelson, 49, of Nampa, was an openly gay man who worked at Boise State overseeing student-staffed call centers that conduct fundraising. He was killed April 29, 2016, after four men lured him to Gott’s Point at Lake Lowell, and then beat and robbed him.
An emergency fund for LGBT students had been started around 2015 with the leadership of then-student Dane Snow, who was president of the BSU Pride Alliance. After Nelson’s death, the university fund was renamed for him.
The fund is meant to support students who come out as gay or transgender while in college.
“Approximately two students a year come to school and lose their funding when they come out as LGBTQ, and the funds from this will get them through the rest of the year [and] help them with a counselor and someone to help them find housing and get their feet on the ground,” said Rodney Busbee, executive director of Boise Pridefest, a nonprofit that helped organize Thursday’s fundraiser. “Then, the next year, they can support themselves.”
The goal of Thursday’s donations, auctions and ticket sales was to raise at least the $5,000. The organizers eventually hope to raise at least $25,000 to keep the fund endowed.
“We’ve had people be afraid to come to the [Pride Alliance] meetings because they were afraid they’d be outed and kicked out of their house,” Snow said. “We want to change that.”
The fundraiser included live performances as attendees sipped cocktails and cheered for various singers, performers and a drag show. Entertainer Minerva Jayne, “Boise Blonde Bombshell,” was the emcee. Some Democratic lawmakers spoke briefly on the stage, and Minerva Jayne spoke of love overcoming hate.
How Nelson died
Nelson went to Lake Lowell with a man he had met in response to an ad on the website backpage.com.
Kelly Schneider, 23, of Nampa, repeatedly kicked Nelson in the head with steel-toed boots while using gay slurs. With three other men, Schneider stripped Nelson, stole his car and wallet, and left him for dead. Nelson, badly beaten, managed to walk to nearby homes seeking help. He died of cardiac arrest a few hours later.
Schneider has been sentenced to 28 years to life in prison on a state charge of first-degree murder and 28 years – to run concurrently – on a federal hate crime charge. Idaho does not include sexual orientation or gender identity in its malicious harassment statute, but federal law does, so former Idaho U.S. Attorney Wendy Olson filed the federal hate crime charge on top of Schneider’s state charges.
The other three men have been convicted on state charges. Jason Woods, 28, of Nampa, the so-called mastermind of the attack, was sentenced to 23 years to life in prison on murder and other charges. Daniel Henkel, 23, of Wilder, and Kevin Tracy, 21, of Nampa, have pleaded guilty to aiding and abetting robbery and await sentencing.
Democrats’ push for change
Democratic lawmakers from Boise who attended the fundraiser told the Statesman that they were disappointed that even after Nelson’s death, they were not able to get a hearing during the 2017 legislative session on their proposal to amend Idaho’s malicious harassment law.
The law makes it unlawful to harass by threat, physical injury or destruction of property any person because of that person’s race, color, religion, ancestry or national origin.
“We are fortunate that the federal laws are in place, but the absence of state protections for the LGBT community is a scar on Idaho,” said Sen. Maryanne Jordan, D-Boise.
Rep. Melissa Wintrow said she was “naively surprised” at the rejection.
“I thought tangibly that people can empathize with criminal acts, in particular an assault and a violent attack,” she said.
House Minority Leader Rep. Mat Erpelding said the minority party made amending the malicious-harassment statute a higher priority this year than the longstanding but unsuccessful effort to amend Idaho’s civil rights law with the “Add the Words” amendment.
“(The laws) really are about equality and human rights,” he said. “And it is quite frustrating.”
Members of Nelson’s family attended Thursday’s fundraiser and said that Nelson wanted to educate people about LGBT issues and support those in need.
The legislators and other supporters said the event’s energy and turnout offered reason for optimism.
“When you see a community respond to something so horrific in such a loving and supportive way, what is there to be afraid of?” Jordan said.
Eligibility for help
Boise State’s requirements for students applying to use the Steven Nelson Emergency Fund include that a student must be taking at least six financial aid-eligible credits or attending summer classes if they’re applying for the grant in the summer months.
The student must have a GPA of 2.0 or show evidence of recent satisfactory progress.
Applications are available at deanofstudents.boisestate.edu/steven/.
Donations to the fund may be made at give.boisestate.edu/steven-nelson-emergency-fund-donation-form.