Faces of Pride 

Putting a face on the issues

Each year around this time, Boise Weekly takes a closer look at gay rights and issues facing the LGBT community in Idaho. We've discussed controversies over same-sex marriage, discrimination and job protection with experts and activists across the board. The community is filled with families and committed couples who might not match the stereotype of mainstream society, but they are families all the same.

But what sometimes gets lost in all the politics are the actual people whose lives are in the cross hairs of the debate.

click to enlarge LAURIE PEARMAN

Sarah Seidl and Kim Beswick, with their children Nick, 6, and Kate, 4

Sarah Seidl, who co-owns a construction company with her brother, knows what love at first sight is like. She knows the joys of motherhood and the rush of marrying the one you love. But in her case, her partner happens to be another woman.

Sarah and Kim have been together for a decade, after meeting at a party. They were married in California surrounded by their family and later decided to take the next step and have children.

It's that kind of commitment to each other that makes comments that they aren't a "real family" all the more cutting.

"Family is about love, and that's what this family is," Sarah said.

Sarah and Kim have slowly become more active in the gay community after proposals for a constitutional amendment to the state constitution banning same-sex marriage first appeared. In November 2006, voters approved an amendment to the Idaho Constitution defining marriage as between one man and one woman.

"It was a tough decision," Sarah said of being more visible, but in the end, they felt it was actually better for their children. "There are great people out there, and part of this is education, and we have to step forward. Once you have kids, it really hits home."

For Sarah, education comes through living the life of an everyday family and members of the community. "We're doing everything else other parents are doing. At the end of the day, the kids are the most important part."

Sarah and Kim have started talking to their children about the fact that they may someday hear negative comments about their family. Sarah said they are just trying to raise strong, confident children. Her daughter has her own take on their situation, telling Sarah she considers herself lucky to have two moms.

click to enlarge LAURIE PEARMAN

Jody and Maria May-Chang with their son Cody May, 21

Jody and Maria have been together for 14 years and moved to Boise from Santa Barbara, Calif., to find a more family friendly community. Since landing in Boise in 1999, Jody has been at the forefront of gay-rights advocacy, publishing the Pride Depot blog and As I See It at may-chang.com. While she sees some progress in actions like the inclusion of sexuality in the hate-crimes law, she believes the there's still a lot to be done, especially when it comes to legalizing same-sex marriage and civil unions, as well as creating job and housing protection. According to Idaho law, it's legal for an employer to fire someone based simply on their sexual orientation.

"People, right now, can be fired for just being gay," she said. "They can't always come out if they're afraid to lose their jobs. This really is a civil-rights issue."

click to enlarge LAURIE PEARMAN

James and Jezzabelle Monroe

One couple with two personas and two engagements. In public, and on stage, they are James and Jezzabelle, active members of the Imperial Sovereign Gem Court of Idaho, performing in charity drag shows whenever they get the chance.

At home, they are Jeremy (James) and Robert (Jezzabelle), a couple who met more than a year ago and have pledged their lives to each other. It was Robert who did the proposing in their personal life, but the equation was flipped last month when James surprised Jezzabelle with a public proposal as she relinquished her crown as Miss Gay Boise Pride 2009.

It seemed only fitting that their alter egos should be as committed as they were at home. It also put the focus on their goal of creating more family oriented drag shows, where all-ages crowds can join in the fun and experience their performance art.

While the two would love to have their commitment (either as a marriage or as a civil union) legally recognized by the state, that's not the most important thing for them.

"No. 1 is that it's recognized by God in the church," James said.

The couple are members of the Treasure Valley Metropolitan Community Church, a group founded to create a place where everyone can worship in an open and accepting environment. The pastor at the church has said she will perform a ceremony.

Still, James would like to be on equal footing someday.

"Yes, we should have the right, as the fact that we are in the land of the free, we should be free to marry as a gay couple," he said.

click to enlarge LAURIE PEARMAN

Amber Howard and Rachel Dovel, with their son Logan Henderson, 5

Amber and Rachel first came to public attention in the summer of 2009, when the Nampa Recreation Center denied them a family membership.

"They basically laughed at us and told us we weren't a real family," Amber said.

Sadly, it wasn't the first time the couple of more than three years had run into discrimination. When they tried to find daycare for their son, daycare operators refused to take him, specifically citing the fact that his parents were gay.

"They said because of our 'home situation,' it would not be appropriate to take a child like him," Amber said.

Because Idaho law does not include protection from discrimination due to sexual orientation, there's nothing the family can do about it.

They've even had past neighbors who refused to let their children play with Logan.

It's this kind of attitude toward their son that has led the couple to enroll him in the Idaho Virtual Academy, rather than have him attend public school. To supplement his education, Amber said she plans to sign him up for as many YMCA programs as possible since the YMCA extended them a family membership, no questions asked.

Still, the denial of them as a family continues to sting.

"We're just as much a family as any other family unit," Amber said. "There's families out there that could be a grandmother and grandfather and their grandchildren live with them. They're a family unit. What difference does it make if there's two mommies?"

Anonymous

Boise Weekly asked numerous gay couples and families to pose for a picture but many couples turned us down for one resounding reason: They were afraid public exposure could cost one or both partners their jobs.

Under Idaho state law, there are no legal job or housing protections based on sexual orientation. There are protections in cases of gender, race, religion, national origin and age.

Repeated attempts to include protections based on sexuality have been stonewalled. Boise Democrat Sen. Nicole LeFavour has continually championed legislation to make the change at the state level, but the Senate State Affairs Committee voted not to even print the bill in February 2009. That same month, the Idaho Human Rights Commission voted to not support an amendment to the Idaho Human Rights Act, which would have extended discrimination protection to the LGBT community.

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