Mistie Tolman’s hard work and passion came to fruition as she looked out over a crowd of nearly 1,000 Idahoans chanting “add the words” on a clear and mild January afternoon in front of the Idaho State Capitol Building.
“Add the Words,” a rally on the capitol steps, drew supporters from all over the State of Idaho on Saturday, Jan. 11. Their message was clear: Idaho lawmakers need to add the words “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” to the Idaho Human
“It (the rally) was beautiful, moving, inspiring,” said Tolman, spokesperson and co-chair of Add the Words, Idaho and Boise State senior political science major. “We need to continue to build on that momentum that the public helped create.”
Currently, the Idaho Human Rights Act protects individuals experiencing discrimination based on age, race, gender, religion and disability. It does not, however, protect those who are in the LGBTQIA community.
Twenty-one states and the District of Columbia have passed laws prohibiting sexual orientation-based employment discrimination. Discrimination based on gender identity is prohibited in 17 states and D.C. For the past seven years, the Idaho Legislature has refused to make the changes. Add the Words, Idaho hopes that will change in this legislative session.
“What we are asking is very simple, very easy,” Tolman said. “Just add four words in the appropriate places within a law that already exists, so that all of Idaho is afforded the same protections.”
Among the speakers at the rally were Sen. Cherie Buckner-Webb and world-acclaimed jazz musician and native Idahoan, Curtis Stigers. As speakers took their turns at the podium, event volunteers passed multicolored ribbons to crowd members who cheered, applauded and chanted, “add the words.”
Buckner-Webb had the crowd especially animated as she gave a lively speech about all men being created with equal rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
“I stand here today to implore our legislators to stop quoting and start voting,” Buckner-Webb announced. “I ask that they would remove the blinders from their eyes, the excuses from their lips and the fear from their hearts.”
Tolman is confident Idaho will add the words and said the tide has turned in favor of equality. She only questions how long it will take.
“The question is, ‘how long will the Idaho Legislature continue to allow some of its constituents to be treated like second class citizens?’” Tolman asked.
As the rally came to a close, participants tied their ribbons to wires hung between lamp posts in front of the capitol building.
Add the Words, Idaho will continue to collect those ribbons and had a table at Human Rights Day in the capitol where more ribbons were collected. Ribbons are to enter into the statehouse this session and be presented to legislature.
A final call to action was made for all Idahoans to write their legislators and speak up. Latest polling from 2011 showed 81 percent of Idahoans do not believe it should be legal to fire someone for being gay or transgender. According to Tolman, good people are being harmed each and every day action isn’t taken.
“I want them (the legislators) to know that we have labored long and we’ve labored hard for justice, and let me just assure them that we ain’t tired yet,” Buckner-Webb said. “We will come to lift our voices, to cast our ballots, to contribute to our communities until justice, liberty and rights are fully abatable and sexual orientation and gender identity are included in the human rights legislature for the state of Idaho.”