Several hundred people packed an auditorium in the Idaho Capitol this morning for a hearing on a measure known as the Add the Words bill.
It’s the first time the state’s legislature has considered a bill that would make sexual orientation and gender identity a protected class in Idaho -- like race or religion. Proponents have been trying to get it heard for nine years.
Some of the most emotional testimony came from the parents of gay and transgender children.
When Julie Zicha’s son Ryan was 15, their family moved from Spokane, Washington, to Pocatello, Idaho. She said that’s when the name calling and shoving started. One night Ryan was beaten up.
Zicha said she thought it would stop once Ryan was out of school, but then it became more subtle, like the time Ryan was denied an apartment.
One night, Zicha and her husband received alerts on their cell phones.
“We received a message from my son that said, ‘Please forgive me. Please remember always this is not your fault.’”
Ryan Zicha died by suicide at 19.
Diane Terhune of Meridian also urged lawmakers to pass the ban. Terhune is the mother of a boy who came out to her as transgender at age 12.
“My son now presents as my daughter and I can’t bear the thought of my precious child being treated unfairly by anyone simply for being herself,” she said.
Lawmakers also heard impassioned pleas from people who worry the bill would demonize people’s beliefs. Opponents said it could result in lawsuits against business owners who decline services on religious grounds.
Many cited the case against Arlene’s Flowers. Bob Spiel is the attorney for the Washington florist who declined to do the arrangements for a same-sex wedding. He told lawmakers that lawsuit should be a cautionary tale for Idaho.
“In seeking to right one form of perceived discrimination -- and I don’t mean to discount the stories that are here today -- the door to another form of far-reaching discrimination is sadly opened,” Spiel said.
The House State Affairs Committee will resume hearings this evening. Public testimony could last for several days.