Equality Now: How Idaho Can Move Forward on LGBT Rights 

Changing the conversation from a social issue, to a rights issue

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Discussion is the most important, she said.

"They don't understand that houses of worship have a responsibility to have these conversations and forge public policy. They can't be political insofar as they endorse candidates, but they can talk about immigration, racism, classism, heterosexism," she said. "Most world religions are based on love, caring for each other, the common good. They're not based on greed or 'me first.' People have to get back to their basic values and figure out what they want for their community, for their children."

Kale, a former pastor and campus minister for the University of Minnesota, echoes much of Baldwin's sentiments.

"We're really talking about life, here, and our desire that everyone has life and everyone has the ability to develop their spirit, you can say, or their self or their mind to the total extent possible," he said. "But you get so much crap from churches and others who are bigoted. My thesis work was on Paul, and Romans in particular, and there's this one phrase that I've always contemplated: 'There is neither male nor female. All are one.'"

Indeed the feeling of being part of the whole is central in the LGBT rights movement and lends a level of nuance that differentiates it from other social-justice struggles.

"I think there's a complexity to being gay that you can pass people in the street and they won't necessarily know that you're gay in the same way that they would know you're not Caucasian or a woman," LeFavour said. "That ability to blend in does make the movement different, but when you come to gender identity, you do find very real similarities."

Herzfeld agrees that there are very real dissimilarities between the fight for LGBT equality and past equality movements, not least of which are the ways in which the discrimination manifests itself.

"I don't think it's appropriate to make a wholesale comparison between the LGBT movement and the Civil Rights Movement because it's impolite to co-opt the hard fought battles of a unique struggle, and I also think homophobia and racism are systems of oppression that operate in different ways," she said.

"Racism is a system of oppression that can be experienced in a generational way. Generational discrimination isn't as common in the LGBT community because families can have straight or LGBT members," she added. "I think it takes social-justice organizations to reach out across issue and constituencies to recognize that the work needs to come from a rights-based place and not an identity-based place."

In other words, the struggle for LGBT rights involves a commitment on the part of groups and individuals--often in their own homes--to combat discrimination. As Kale agreed, this social-justice movement will be won with personal "Freedom Rides," not a bus trip en masse to a specific location.

"In the end, what changes minds is people knowing a gay person or transgender person and realizing that these issues affect people that they care about," LeFavour said. "I wouldn't say you have to drop the label thing; you have to know you know a gay person and know that they're a person and that they matter and they have dignity."

Elizabeth Morgan works with a population that feels the slings and arrows of LGBT inequality as much--if not more--than any other: students.

As co-chair of the Idaho Safe Schools Coalition, Morgan helps provide support for diversity clubs and gay-straight alliances comprised of youths, both LGBT and straight, who all struggle with issues of identity and social acceptance.

"That's probably one of the bigger challenges, and I think that's true particularly because students may face negative social responses to them being involved in these organizations. It's hard for students who are not going through these issues themselves to willingly submit themselves to that social scrutiny," she said. "Usually, if we do have heterosexually identified students participating, it's because they have a good friend who's gay or a parent who's gay or some connection to the community."

Morgan, a developmental psychologist who also directs the Family Studies program in Boise State's Department of Psychology, said the central goal of the coalition is to provide a voice for youth in both secondary and post-secondary school, as well as advocate on their behalf.

"Often schools and school boards are not particularly friendly toward these groups," she said. "I think that that's really our main goal: to empower the youth. But at the same time, we do that by taking kind of a top-down approach with teachers and administrators at school and speaking for them or speaking up for them."

The Idaho Safe Schools Coalition has been helping bring LGBT and heterosexual students together since its foundation in 2005 by members of the Idaho Education Association and Civil and Human Rights Committee. The effort is creating results.

According to Morgan, the younger generation is markedly more accepting of diverse sexual orientations and gender identities.

"Having kids who are out in high school, and we know that happens a lot more than it did 10 years or 20 years ago, makes a big difference," she said. "Then there's just the ability to have these clubs in schools to support them."

Leaders like LeFavour and Herzfeld laud the efforts of groups like the Idaho Safe Schools Coalition and Interfaith Alliance, crediting them and many others with some of the most important work yet done for the cause of LGBT equality in Idaho. They, like allied groups, underscore that the real fight remains in the statehouse.

"For five consecutive years, we haven't been given a public hearing at the state legislature [on LGBT inclusion in the Idaho Human Rights Act]," Herzfeld said. "It's a longer-term battle and it's one that requires a lot of education, a lot of grass-roots movement work.

"The public support is there," she added, but lawmakers--in particular Senate State Affairs Committee Chairman Rep. Curt McKenzie, from Boise--refuse to move on it.

"He doesn't see that there are votes on the committee to get it out. I have a hard time accepting that," Herzfeld said. "The difficulty of a task does not relieve us of the obligation to try."

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