Opinion: “Add the Words” is long overdue, HB 440 would add vital protections to Idaho’s Human Rights Act

Photo courtesy of Anete Lusina

On Jan. 17, Rep. John McCrostie introduced the “Add the Words” bill, a bill that has been introduced every year in Idaho for the past 14 years. House Bill (HB) 440 would add the words “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” to Idaho’s Human Rights Act, protecting people from being discriminated against for their sexuality and gender identity along with race, sex, age and nationality. 

Having been introduced many, many times now, this bill has a long history in the Idaho Legislature. Introduced for the first time in 2008 by former Rep. Cole LeFavour, the bill was left to die, as has been the curse of the bill since then. In 2014, approximately 122 activists, including LeFavour themself, were arrested during a slew of protests and civil disobedience acts. 

Since then, however, the movement has seemed to die out, especially in comparison with the 2014 protests and arrests. This didn’t stop a variety of legislators from continuing to re-introduce this bill every session, even expressing their doubts on its passing. 

“You know what happens with personal bills and that’s OK. At least by introducing this as a personal bill, we’re able to get the concept out for public consumption, for public discussion,” McCrostie said in an interview with KTVB

Personal bills don’t get a full public hearing, which limits important aspects of passing a bill, like hearing testimony from citizens and experts. 

It makes sense why Idaho legislators continue to introduce the Add the Words bill as a personal bill; it’s introduced early, and with enough co-sponsors, legislators and supporters can still signify its support. However, as McCrostie himself indicated, this bill is unlikely to go any further than possibly sparking a community discussion. 

Rep. Jogn McCrostie
Photo courtesy of Rep. John McCrostie’s campaign website

As it usually goes every year, this bill was introduced, read, reported and printed to the Ways and Means committee, which is all that will likely happen regarding this bill until the next legislative session, when it will inevitably happen all over again. 

I don’t like to be a pessimist, but after watching this happen year after year, I can’t help but believe that there must be a better way to get this important legislation passed. But why, exactly, is it so important for HB 440 to be passed? Well, I can copy-and-paste my 18-page research paper on the history and nuances of the Add the Words bills, but instead, I’ll summarize. 

If a queer person lives outside one of the few cities, or Ada County, with local ordinances in place protecting them from discrimination, they can be fired, unhoused or otherwise discriminated against solely for their sexual or gender identity. 

You may be wondering whether or not this actually happens, because if it doesn’t, the bill is rather obsolete. A 2014 report documents an unfortunately long list of queer Idahoans being discriminated against, ranging from a transgender police officer being threatened by her sheriff to a lesbian college student being forcefully evicted by her landlord. Sadly, the list goes on, and that is certainly not even the worst of it. 

The same report highlights a frightening fact: “Formal documentation of individual incidents of discrimination in Idaho is rare, in part due to fear of backlash.” Queer people cannot come forward in an attempt to stop the injustices enacted against them in fear of something worse happening. 

Idaho has always been lacking when it comes to diversity, equity and inclusion efforts, especially surrounding the legislature, but this has gone on too long. There is absolutely no reason to continue to allow employers and landlords to harass and discriminate against queer people. 

A queer person’s existence affects no one but themself, and endangering their wellbeing because one doesn’t “agree with their lifestyle” is simply revolting. Let queer people exist without politicizing and villinazing everything they do. Give them the protections they need and deserve to function in a society that was not made for them.

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