Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Idaho Human Rights Commission's big but

Posted By on Tue, Feb 10, 2009 at 12:45 PM

The Idaho Human Rights Commission voted Monday night not to back protections for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people being proposed for the Idaho Human Rights Act.

After two years of supporting the inclusion of sexual orientation in Idaho’s Human Rights Act, the Commission, with some new members, voted not to support legislation amending its charter.

Commission President Estella Zamora said she was disappointed and saddened at the vote.
“I believe that people need to be protected in their work, in their housing and in their business dealings, as any other human being,” Zamora said.

The Commission voted 5-4 not to support a bill that would amend the Human Rights Act to protect people from discrimination based on actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity.

The act currently protects people from people from discrimination based on race, color, religion, national origin, sex, age (40 and over) and disability.

“I’m very very disappointed because that is our role as a commission, we’re a human rights agency,” Zamora said. “If the legislature approves this then it would be included in the Human Rights Act and we would have to enforce it.”

Emilie Jackson-Edney, a co-convener of the group Idaho Equality, one of several organizations pushing the amendment, said that the Commission does good work for many, but that the vote perpetuates blatant discrimination against LGBT people.

“To have a board of commissioners who wouldn’t support human rights for everyone in this state is just unconscionable to me, it just doesn’t make any sense,” she said.

Commission Vice President Hyong Pak of Twin Falls, Daniel Boston and Andrea Wassner of Boise joined Zamora in supporting the measure. Megan Ronk of Boise, Vernon Baker of St. Maries, Ruthie Johnson of Hayden Lake, Brian Scigliano of Boise and Sheila Olsen of Idaho Falls voted not to support the amendment. Opponents cited fears the workplace protections would lead to gay marriage or leave the state open to law suits. 

Reached at her office, Ronk said her vote did not reflect the issue of discrimination.

“From my perspective I didn’t believe that it was the role of the Commission to introduce policy, it seems to me that’s the role of the legislature,” Ronk said.

Asked whether gays and lesbians are discriminated against in Idaho, Ronk replied: “I’m sure there are circumstances where that does occur but that was not the question that was brought up before the commission last night.”

Jackson-Edney said that Ronk raised the jurisdiction issue and that an attorney assured her it was within the Commission’s purview to advise the Legislature on human rights policy.

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