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Businesses Add the Words Where Idaho Lawmakers Won't 

Idaho small businesses support Add the Words, even at the risk of losing customers

Mike Tankserley, owner of Signs 2 U, isn't afraid of losing customers. He openly displays his support for the Add the Words movement.

Jessica Murri

Mike Tankserley, owner of Signs 2 U, isn't afraid of losing customers. He openly displays his support for the Add the Words movement.

It has been eight long years, but things are looking up for Signs 2 U owner Mike Tankersley. He now has five employees and a new location for his sign shop. His customers include the YMCA, College of Idaho, Primary Health, Tates Rents, Oakley and Best Buy.

In October 2014, when same-sex marriage in Idaho became legal for the first time, Tankersley made a decision that could put his entire business at risk: He is using Signs 2 U (signs2uboise.com) to show support for the Add the Words movement, which is working to get the words "gender identity" and "sexual orientation" added to the Idaho Human Rights Act.

"There's a chance I could lose [everything]," Tankersley said. "But I'm not going to look back in 10 years and say, 'I could have done something, but I didn't because I was afraid of going out of business.'"

Tankersley makes stickers—including the popular rainbow-colored silhouette of Idaho with the word "Love" on it—T-shirts and banners for Add the Words demonstrators and supporters. He makes the stickers for free, sells them for a few dollars and donates the money back to the Add the Words cause. The rest, he does at cost.

Every truck in Tankersley's fleet has a sticker on it expressing support for the movement. He has gone so far as to hang a 40-foot banner of support off his company's bucket truck.

LGBT-allied business owners like Tankersley are becoming an important part of the Add the Words effort.

Sitting through more than 20 hours of public testimony before the Idaho House State Affairs Committee in late January, Chelsea Lincoln and Evangeline Beechler heard the same concerns raised over and over again: Adding the words will hurt businesses and business owners shouldn't be forced to do anything against their beliefs. The classic example is photographers or bakers who don't want to be sued for discrimination if they choose to refuse services for same-sex weddings.

It became clear to Lincoln and Beechler, who both work with the Add the Words strategy team and the Add the Words Coalition, they needed Tankersley and other like-minded business owners to support Add the Words bills that could crop up in future legislative sessions.

"We need to have the power of a base made up of those business owners," Lincoln said. "So we figured we better start finding them."

Lincoln and Beechler cast a net in early February, creating a Facebook group called Idaho Businesses for Add the Words. Within 24 hours, the page racked up 1,000 likes. About a month after its launch, the number of likes has grown to 1,500.

According to Lincoln, the purpose of the group is to create a place where businesses can publicly support Add the Words and customers can find those businesses. So far, member businesses include real estate agents, photographers, bakers, insurance agents, travel agencies, a tutoring center, a dog training service, hairdressers, a pond maintenance service, a nutritionist, restaurants, cleaning companies, landscapers, counselors, attorneys, Flying M Coffeehouse, Visual Arts Collective, Park Side Montessori School and Treefort Music Fest.

Lincoln and Beechler decided to take the mission a step further and also created a private Facebook group strictly for business owners where they can talk strategy and engage in lobbying the Idaho Legislature. The group has almost 100 members.

The goal is to get businesses to visibly demonstrate support for their LGBT customers. They're designing a decal to go in a window or next to a cash register that reads, "We don't discriminate."

"We're learning what will best get people to open up, not just close doors on those conversations," Lincoln said. "We're thinking about the whole 'Idaho love' thing that's going on right now. There's so much state love."

Beechler agreed.

"So a design could be as simple as, 'All Idahoans are welcome here,'" she said.

Bruce Delaney is anxious to get a sticker in the window at his business. Delaney and his wife, Laura, own Rediscovered Bookshop (rdbooks.org) in downtown Boise.

"I sat through several days of the hearings and testified," Delaney said. "I think a lot of the concerns that are being brought up, if you look at history, are the same concerns that were brought up when we were talking about equal rights for African Americans. Fifty years ago, it was blacks, today it is gays. Who knows what it's going to be in the next 50 years, but it's always on the wrong side of history."

Delaney said it's not his place, especially as the owner of a bookstore, to discriminate against anyone. Even if he doesn't agree with an author's viewpoint, Delaney carries his or her book. The store carries books on Judaism, Christianity, the history of the Mormon Temple, The Anarchist Cookbook and even Adolf Hitler's manifesto, Mein Kampf.

"I can't think of a more offensive book to me personally," Delaney said. "But it's not my place to judge what you read. It's my place to help you find something that you'll enjoy reading."

He said he knows there are risks to publicizing his views on LBGT issues, but he doesn't care if he loses customers. It's not about making money, he said. It's about treating all his customers with respect and dignity.

"What if we flipped it?" DeLaney said. "If you are against Add the Words, put a sign up in your window saying, 'You're not welcome here if you're gay.' Are there any businesses that would be willing to do that? I think the answer is no. That's the telling point."

As anxious as Delaney is to put a sticker in the window of Rediscovered, "Nothing will make me happier than when I can take that sticker down," he said. "I don't have to have a sign up in the window that says we're not going to discriminate against you if you're black or if you're a woman. It upsets me that this is even necessary."

Tankersley told BW he has lost some customers since he made his support for Add the Words public. He described one customer in particular who was "very, very rude" and refused to continue doing business with his company. He let that customer go without remorse. Many of his customers are other small businesses and churches, so Tankersley runs the risk of seeing more of them go. He has accepted he might lose some revenue.

"I want to be able to tell my kids I didn't just sit on the sidelines," Tankersley said. "I tried to help however I could. There's no question what's the right side to be on here. We're going to look back on this in 20 years and say, 'Wow, how was this even a conversation?'"

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