BOISE, Idaho — At least 65 demonstrators seeking anti-discrimination protections for gays and lesbians ringed the third-floor rotunda of Idaho’s Capitol 10 days after dozens of people were arrested at a previous protest.
Thursday’s demonstration didn’t include blocking entrances to lawmakers’ chambers, the incident that precipitated the mass arrests of Feb. 3.
The group attempted to file into both the House and Senate chambers, but it was rebuffed by Idaho State Police troopers and Capitol security, who told the protesters they needed to turn their shirts — which read “Add The Four Words,” in white letters on a black background —inside out in order to enter.
Rules for both chambers forbid political displays by spectators who enter the House or Senate galleries.
The demonstrators refused and remained outside in the rotunda beneath the Capitol dome, where they assembled silently, with their hands covering their mouths. Meanwhile, doors to the Senate chambers and gallery were locked to prevent the activists from getting inside.
Activists are upset lawmakers for eight years have refused to add workplace and housing discrimination protections for gays, bisexuals, lesbians and transgender individuals to the Idaho Human Rights Act.
“We’re just trying to be heard,” said former Sen. Nicole LeFavour, D-Boise and one of the group’s leaders. “I’m trying to find a place where they will actually look at us.”
LeFavour, Idaho’s first openly gay senator, was among the 44 people arrested for trespassing during a previous protest.
She and the other protesters are demanding Republican lawmakers join minority Democrats in adding “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” to Idaho’s existing prohibitions on employment, housing and business-service discrimination.
Republicans have blocked a hearing on a bill this year, over objections from Democrats.
The issue of gay rights has become prominent in the Idaho Capitol this year, with the ongoing protests over the Human Rights Act as well as a separate Republican-sponsored bill seeking to protect business owners who refuse to serve gay and lesbian customers.
It’s still pending in the Idaho House, where it was returned to a committee on Wednesday for possible alterations.
“Sadly, we feel forced to return,” Mike Butts, spokesman for the demonstrators. “Many Idahoans feel silenced by the Senate’s refusal to hear the bill.”
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