Monday, April 6, 2015

Video: Northern Idaho Wedding Chapel Moves Forward With Federal Lawsuit

Posted By on Mon, Apr 6, 2015 at 9:25 AM

A northern Idaho wedding chapel, which became the centerpiece of a debate over whether a business can claim religious exemption, now wants the City of Coeur d'Alene to pay for the days that the chapel closed down in 2014, even though Hitching Post owners shut the chapel down by choice. Additionally, the chapel is moving forward with a lawsuit against the Idaho panhandle city in spite of the fact that they've been told they don't have to perform same-sex weddings.

In 2014, Hitching Post owners Don and Evelyn Knapp said their business was not bound by Coeur d'Alene's nondiscrimination ordinance, which makes it illegal to deny services based on gender identity or sexual orientation. Shortly after a federal court struck down Idaho's ban on same-sex marriage, the Knapps sued Coeur d'Alene, but city officials said they had no desire to prosecute the Hitching Post for violating the ordinance. The debate came on the heels of some controversial proposed "religious freedom" legislation introduced in the 2014 session of the Idaho Legislature.

And now, almost a full  year after the Hitching Post said it would close its doors if it was forced to perform same-sex weddings, KXLY-TV is reporting that the Knapps still say their First Amendment rights are in jeopardy despite the City of Coeur d'Alene agreeing that the Hitching Post was indeed a religious organization and was exempt from the city's nondiscrimination ordinance. In an April 2 statement, Coeur d'Alene spokesperson Keith Erickson said the city "never threatened any legal action, nor does it intend to do so" and has filed, for a second time, for dismissal of the lawsuit.

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Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Video: Gender Equality Campaign Gets Some Pushback at Eastern Idaho School

Posted By on Tue, Mar 31, 2015 at 9:58 AM

A campaign for gender equality driven by two eastern Idaho students that includes an optional school assembly, optional workshops and an optional march in the community of Blackfoot is getting some pushback from a few parents and students, according to KIDK-TV.

Madison Thompson and Eric Wood, both students at Blackfoot High School, worked with the Idaho Coalition Against Sexual Violence to bring the "Gender Revolution" campaign to their community. But when they began putting posters up at the school, some parents called in to voice their displeasure.

"The poster basically said that it was a gender revolution," parent Rachel Hanson told KIDK-TV. "The one that I specifically saw that bothered me was 'I will be proud of my love no matter my gender.'"

And Tanner Bean, a senior at the school, told KIDK-TV that he was uncomfortable with some of the campaign.

"It seems like they're promoting to be gay, to be lesbian and to be bisexual, that it's OK," Bean told KIDK-TV. "That's something that should not be promoted at this school."

But Wood responded by saying that the point of the campaign was to "end discrimination against anyone for any reason and promoting healthy relationships.

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Monday, March 30, 2015

'Religious Freedom' Measure Should Look Familiar to Idaho Statehouse Watchers

Posted By on Mon, Mar 30, 2015 at 9:33 AM

Indiana Gov. Mike Pence spent the better part of Sunday defending his state's new "religious freedom" law, which looks quite familiar to Idaho Statehouse watchers.

Pence's measure prohibits any state laws that "substantially burden" a person's ability to follow his or her religious beliefs—and by "person" the law goes on to include religious institutions, businesses and associations.

A year ago, Boise Republican Rep. Lynn Luker floated a pair of measures—House bills 426 and 427—also deemed "religious freedom" bills. 

"Government has gone so far that it is forcing these conflicts and controversies," Luker wrote to Boise Weekly. "People of faith have finally decided to say we have to do something to protect ourselves from this assault upon our rights, which after all are protected in the very first amendment to the Constitution." 

The bills ultimately got hung up in committee and never made it to the House or Senate floors. Outrage over the measures, which had striking similarities to other "religious freedom" bills introduced around the country in 2014, centered on what Luker and others attempt to set a new standard by which cases involving religious objections would be judged.

Meanwhile, Pence appeared on ABC's This Week on Sunday and refused to directly answer whether under his law it would be legal for a merchant to refuse to serve gay customers. Pence was asked directly six times during the awkward exchange with host George Stephanopoulos.

"This is not about discrimination, this is about empowering people to confront government overreach," said Pence. Asked again, he said, "Look, the issue here is still, 'is tolerance a two-way street or not?'"

More than a few businesses have already nixed their desire to do business in Pence's state. Angie's List has shelved a headquarters expansion plan that would have brought the state 1,000 jobs. CEO Marc Benioff said he would no longer send customers or employees to Indiana. Meanwhile, the NCAA suggested that it could move future events elsewhere; the men's Final Four had already been scheduled for Indianapolis next weekend.

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Friday, March 27, 2015

Idaho Rep. Paul Shepherd's Awkward Invitation, His Website Makeover and His Bizarre Reference to LGBT Advocates as Slaveowners

Posted By on Fri, Mar 27, 2015 at 11:17 AM

Riggins Republican Rep. Paul Shepherd is being asked to sit down with members of the LGBT community to discuss the issue of being gay, lesbian, bisexual and/or transgender in Idaho. In fact, members of Better Idaho hand-delivered an invitation to Shepherd at the Idaho Statehouse on Thursday.

"We realize you have some very strong opinions regarding the LGBT community, and it would be helpful to us if we could more fully understand those opinions. We also think a forum may help alleviate some of your fears of the LGBT community," said the invitation.

Earlier this month, Shepherd introduced a resolution calling for the impeachment of any federal judge who sides with same-sex marriage.

"We would like to have a forum with LGBT citizens in Idaho to alleviate some of your concerns and some of theirs, just given all the vitriol that's happened recently," said Better Idaho's Jordan Brady when she handed the invitation to Shepherd. "Do you think you'll be able to attend?"

Shepherd responded, "I don't know yet, I just...I haven't gotten to read the whole thing." Shepherd asked for another copy of the invitation and took off, saying "I'll let you know."

Meanwhile, it turns out that Dylan Hailey, an Idaho college student, has purchased Shepherd's former website, and given it a makeover, including a rainbow flag behind Shepherd's photo and advocacy for LGBT protections.

"Several articies stated this site was hacked; it was not," said the website. "The domain went up for renewal and Paul Shepherd didn't pay the bill, so the domain went back on the market and we just had lucky timing and purchased it before he noticed his domain had expired. We legally own the website now."

The site has since been linked to Reddit.

"Yes, we do need to take a stand, against bigots who discriminate against people they disagree with or don't like, just like what Paul Shepherd is doing to the LGBT community," wrote Hailey on the website.

Meanwhile, Shepherd offered a bizarre reference to slavery when asked about the website takeover by Idaho Reports.

“Slave owners were very good Christians and good people,” Shepherd told Idaho Reports. "They [slave owners] weren't terrible, horrible, rotten people—just people who made terrible decisions. And that's how I see gay people."

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Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Video: Northern Idaho's Hitching Post Digs In Its Heels With Lawsuit

Posted By on Wed, Mar 18, 2015 at 12:07 PM

The Hitching Post, a northern Idaho business that insists that it is a religious corporation and therefore justified in its denial of performing same-sex marriages, is digging in its heels with a lawsuit against the city of Coeur d'Alene.

In 2014, Hitching Post owners Don and Evelyn Knapp said their business was not bound by Coeur d'Alene's nondiscrimination ordinance, which makes it illegal to deny services based on gender identity or sexual orientation. Shortly after a federal court struck down Idaho's ban on same-sex marriage, the Knapps sued Coeur d'Alene, but city officials said they had no desire to prosecute the Hitching Post for violating the ordinance.

Now KREM-TV reports that attorneys representing the Hitching Post have amended their original complaint, affirming their position and that "they are not giving up their fight any time soon."

Meanwhile, Coeur d'Alene city officials continue to ask to have the case dismissed. The city's insurer, the Idaho Counties Risk Management Program, is funding the suit and ICRMP has hired a Boise attorney to represent Coeur d'Alene.

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Monday, March 2, 2015

Dozens of Add the Words Demonstrators Arrested at Idaho State Capitol

Posted By on Mon, Mar 2, 2015 at 12:42 PM

Add the Words demonstrators in the Idaho House chamber prior to their arrest - HARRISON BERRY
  • Harrison Berry
  • Add the Words demonstrators in the Idaho House chamber prior to their arrest

During a March 2 demonstration at the Idaho State Capitol, 21 advocates for adding "gender identity" and "sexual orientation" to Idaho's human rights code were placed under arrest for trespassing when they assembled in the Idaho House and Senate chambers.

10 demonstrators were removed from the Senate chamber and 11 were removed from the House chamber; but 18 were taken to the Ada County Jail for processing, while two juveniles and one disabled person—Madelyn Taylor—were cited and released. 

According to a statement released by Add the Words representatives, the demonstrations wouldn't end until "serious consideration was given to a bill to add the four words into Idaho law."

A bill to address employment, housing and public accommodations discrimination against LGBT people, HB2, failed in the House State Affairs Committee in February, with hundreds of members of the public testifying both in favor and against the bill. Demonstrators said that they continue to work with lawmakers on a "compromise" bill, but there has been no word yet on whom they're working with in the legislature or how a new bill would differ from HB2.
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Thursday, February 5, 2015

UPDATE: Two Suspects in Spokane LGBT Assault Case Deny Accusations

Posted By on Thu, Feb 5, 2015 at 10:29 AM


Two men who have been accused of assaulting a transgender woman at a Spokane bakery have denied taunting the victim, Jacina Scamahorn, or hitting and kicking her multiple times, the Spokesman-Review reports

The accused, Adam Flippen and Marc Fessler, did not post bond and were released from jail after a court appearance Feb. 4. Both, however, still face charges of malicious harassment—Washington's version of a hate crime—and Flippen also faces an additional second-degree assault with a deadly weapon charge.

According to Scamahorn, Flippen and Fessler made derogatory statements about her, and she responded by spitting in Flippen's face. He followed her into Boots Bakery, where he screamed expletives and punched her in the eye. During the assault, a bystander who tried to get help said he saw one of the men kick Scamahorn in the face. Scamahorn suffers from broken facial bones and a black eye, and witnesses said she vomited and convulsed after the attack.

But Flippen and Fessler's account of the events differ from Scamahorn's. According to court documents, Flippen admitted to punching Scamahorn once, but both men said they didn't kick or verbally taunt her.

Numerous witnesses saw the event. A bartender told police he tried to stop the assault, then went to get help. He said he returned in time to see one of the assailants kick Scamahorn in the face. A customer gave similar details, adding that she thought Flippen kicked Scamahorn in the face, according to court documents. 

Flippen and Fessler have been ordered by police not to consume alcohol, not to approach Scamahorn or enter Boots Bakery or a nearby bar, Zola. 

Original Post: 10:11 a.m. Wednesday, Feb. 4

Two men have been arrested in connection with the recent beating of a Spokane, Wash., transgender woman, which many in the community have characterized as a hate crime, the Spokesman-Review reports.

Jacina Scamahorn, who witnesses say was assaulted Jan. 30 by two men at Boots Bakery in downtown Spokane, suffered broken bones in her face during the attack. Her case was highlighted this week by Spokane's Human Rights Commission. Tuesday morning, Spokane police released pictures of two suspects whose images had been captured on surveillance cameras. 

Eight hours after the photos were released, police made two arrests in connection with the case: Adam R. Flippen, 45, faces charges of second-degree assault with a deadly weapon and malicious harassment, and Marc Fessler, 42, faces one charge of malicious harassment.

Under Washington state law, a person is guilty of malicious harassment when that person "maliciously and intentionally" commits assault, destroys property or makes threats because of "race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, gender, sexual orientation or mental, physical or sensory handicap." 
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Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Wyoming Senate Committee Says Yes to Its Own 'Add the Words' Bill

Posted By on Wed, Feb 4, 2015 at 10:16 AM

  • Wyoming Statehouse
Less than a week after an Idaho legislative committee shut down the Add the Words measure, a Wyoming legislative committee has voted to approve its own bill that would extend anti-discrimination protections to cover sexual orientation and gender identity.

The Wyoming Tribune Eagle reports that the the Wyoming Senate Judiciary Committee voted 4-1 to approve the measure after voting down an amendment that would have strengthened exceptions for religious institutions. The bill heads to the full Senate for debate and consideration. Supporters of the amendment said they're still optimistic that they'll be able to add more exceptions to the bill to include charities, religious-based hospitals and nonprofits. 

However, a spokeswoman with the Wyoming Department of Workforce Services said such broad exemptions could make it difficult for the agency to investigate allegations of discrimination.

"It allows a variety of different types of employers to then assert that as a defense to an allegation of discrimination," said Cherie Doak, of the department, arguing that the exemption language "would enable some less-scrupulous companies to fire people they don't like."

Jeran Artery, of the group Wyoming Equality, told Wyoming Public Media, "It's time to update the statutes to include sexual orientation and gender identity, so we're very excited."

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Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Video: Spokane City Council Meeting Packed in Shadow of Alleged Hate Crime

Posted By on Tue, Feb 3, 2015 at 9:59 AM

Residents packed Monday's meeting of the Spokane City Council to urge what they said was a "call to action" in the wake of an alleged hate crime against a transgender citizen.

KREM-TV reports that one-by-one, Spokane residents stood before their city's lawmakers and called the assault a hate crime.

"On paper, Spokane appears to be more inclusive," said one man. "However, in practice it clearly is not."

Witnesses told police that the victim had been attacked inside a Boots Bakery in the evening hours of Jan. 20 30. 

"They treated me like I was a thing. Like I was someone that didn't deserve respect," said Jacina Scamahorn told KREM-TV. "This is an unfortunate incident, but it's not going to stop me from being myself."

Meanwhile, Spokane police said their major crimes unit was still investigating the incident and hadn't yet determined if it will be treated as an alleged hate crime.

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Sunday, February 1, 2015

'Add the Words' Protests Pop Up in Northern Idaho

Posted By on Sun, Feb 1, 2015 at 11:00 AM

After the "Add the Words" bill failed with a 13-4 vote against, many protested peacefully outside the hearing. - HARRISON BERRY
  • Harrison Berry
  • After the "Add the Words" bill failed with a 13-4 vote against, many protested peacefully outside the hearing.

After the Idaho Legislature's House State Affairs Committee voted to kill the so-called "Add the Words" bill on Jan. 29, a huge group of those who had testified and observed the hearing during the course of four days lined the statehouse walls outside the Lincoln Auditorium with their hands over their mouths—hearkening back to last year's arrests of hundreds of protesters.

The protests continued on Jan. 31, according to the Coeur d'Alene Press

A group of 25 demonstrators stood, making the signature hand-over-mouth gesture during the Kootenai County state Legislature's town hall meeting in response to the committee's decision to kill the bill Thursday.

"By holding our hands over our mouths, we're representing that we're being denied a voice in the human Rights Act and that the words 'sexual orientation; and 'gender identity' are not included," 20-year-old Lauren Merlino told the Press. She currently serves as the president of North Idaho College's Gender and Sexuality Alliance.

The demonstrators stood silently in the rear of the room during the two-hour meeting. 

"I do think that our presence was very much noticed," Merlino said. "By being there, we forced them to notice us."

She added that she sensed tension in the room, where some people didn't approve of their presence, but she said others acted sympathetic toward their purpose.

"I know we'll be getting our rights, one way or another," she said.
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