What is Hate? After Gay Man's Murder, Better Idaho Wants Suspects Charged with Hate Crimes 

click to enlarge - Amy Davis and Ashley Carter at the Idaho State Capitol. -  - HARRISON BERRY
  • Harrison Berry
  • Amy Davis and Ashley Carter at the Idaho State Capitol.

About a dozen people showed up May 19 at the Idaho State Capitol for what some hope will be a turning point in Idaho's position on the state's nondiscrimination and human rights laws: The delivery of more than 1,500 signatures petitioning U.S. Attorney Wendy Olson to file federal hate crime charges against two men accused of the murder of Steven Nelson, 49, of Caldwell.

Nelson, a Boise State University employee and local actor, was an openly gay, active advocate for equality. He was beaten, robbed and stripped April 29 by alleged assailants Kelly Schneider, 22; Jayson C. Woods, 28; Kevin R. Tracy, 21, all of Nampa; and Daniel A. Henkel, 23, of Wilder, who have all been arraigned on first-degree murder charges. 

In the announcement of Nelson's death, Boise State Gender Equity Center Director Adriane Bang wrote: "[O]ur community can be a hostile and sometimes very dangerous place for folks who identify as LGBTQIA." 

At the Statehouse rally May 19, Amy Davis, sister of Jordan Brady—a writer for event organizer Better Idaho—said: "I hope it helps prevent some of the things those people deal with on a daily basis." 

click to enlarge Steven Nelson - COURTESY BOISE STATE UNIVERSITY
  • Courtesy Boise State University
  • Steven Nelson
The petition signatures were collected and delivered by members of Better Idaho on behalf of Nelson. Better Idaho and its supporters at the rally demonstrated in favor of labeling Nelson's murder a hate crime, alleging the attack was motivated by his sexuality.

"Steven's death was not a robbery gone wrong and it wasn't an accident," said Brady. "It was a group of people who chose to target, humiliate and brutally murder someone for their sexual orientation."

Idaho currently has a hate crime law on the books. Established in 1983, it prohibits intimidation or harassment on account of "race, color, religion, ancestry, or national origin," but those protections do not extend to a person's gender or sexual orientation. 

"The members of this community are just as valued as anybody else," Davis said.

There have been no efforts since the 1980s to revise the state law, though there have been numerous attempts to add "sexual orientation" and "gender identity" to the state's human rights law.

In addition to enhanced charges being filed against the suspects in Nelson's murder, Better Idaho is pressing for changes to be made by the Idaho Legislature to the state's existing malicious harassment law to include LGBT status.

The investigation into Nelson's murder is ongoing.
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