Supporters of the Add the Words campaign, seeking to add "sexual orientation and gender identity" to Idaho human rights protections, spent a cold night on the steps of the Idaho Statehouse March 15, during an all-night vigil--a protest that would be the group's last during the 2012 legislative session.
"The vigil tonight is to show the Legislature how heartless it has been" said Add the Words spokeswoman Mistie Tolman.
More than 70 participants ignored a late-winter blast of cold and threat of rain to mark a session that saw Republican members of the Senate State Affairs Committee refuse to have the bill printed or debated. Yet campaign leaders said they were still resolute that the end of their efforts has not yet come.
"As we light up the night at the end of this dark legislative session, we're sending a message that it is wrong to interfere with an open process of dialogue and democracy," Tolman said solemnly to those gathered, some carrying flashlights or glow sticks. "We will not let [the Legislature] leave us hopeless."
The vigil featured remarks from bill sponsor Pocatello Democratic Sen. Edgar Malepeai, who will not be seeking re-election after this year.
"What can be accomplished with just four words?" asked Malepeai. "'In God we trust;' 'With justice for all;' 'Endowed with inalienable rights;' 'I have a dream;' I believe as a society working together, we can move mountains with words. We have lost the battle, this time around, but we have not lost the war."
The gathering also heard from Boise Democratic Sen. Nicole LeFavour, another of the bill's sponsors. LeFavour will also be stepping away from the State Senate in order to launch a campaign to challenge Republican Congressman Mike Simpson.
While LeFavour conceded to a number of frustrations in the past three months, she also said the 2012 session has been the best she's ever had.
"You have changed the Statehouse forever. It will never be the same," she said. "People have advanced in their understanding of the issue and their awareness that the state supports what we're asking for, and that their colleagues believe in this. They now understand that."
The vigil concluded with Add the Words organizer Lisa Perry telling the crowd that, for months, they had gathered peacefully to ask state lawmakers to give their legislation a hearing and a vote.
"We have been respectful. Where is our respect?" asked Perry. "We cannot wait for next year. Our friends, families and neighbors are being harmed by discrimination now."
Perry then asked for volunteers to participate in an act of civil disobedience by sleeping on the Statehouse steps. Statewide coordinator Cody Hafer said that about 20 people committed to spending the night at the Capitol despite concerns about possibly being cited by State Police for trespassing.
"We will stay until our lawmakers come to work in the morning and see our peaceful, persistent request for a hearing and a vote to add the words," Perry said.
Tolman told BW that as many as 14 activists endured the entire night on the steps of the Capitol, with no interference from law enforcement.