Gay rights activists arrested again after Idaho capitol protest

Gay rights activists arrested again after Idaho capitol protest
Idaho arrests
John Miller, AP
Sen. Lee Heider, R-Twin Falls, rear, looks out from the Idaho Senate’s office suite after being blockaded inside by gay rights protesters seeking to add anti-discrimination protections to the Idaho Human Rights Act on Thursday, Feb. 27, 2014 in Boise, Idaho. In all, 46 people were arrested and taken by law-enforcement bus to jail, bringing the total number of demonstrators arrested to at least 122 this month.

BOISE, Idaho — Gay rights activists were again led out of the Idaho Statehouse in shackles and taken to jail by bus Thursday after a renewed protest seeking to add anti-discrimination protections to Idaho law.

Forty-six people were arrested for misdemeanor trespassing, some of them for the third time this month.

The demonstrators blocked lawmakers and the public from reaching Senate committee rooms on the west side of the Capitol for more than an hour before Idaho State Police intervened. The protesters stood shoulder to shoulder, obstructing the hallway to the hearing rooms, as well as a door leading outside.

Idaho arrests
John Miller, AP
Gay rights protesters block the Senate hallway at the Idaho Capitol on Thursday, Feb. 27, 2014 in Boise, Idaho.

The group wants the Legislature to add protections based on gender identity and sexual orientation to the Idaho Human Rights Act. Republican leaders have declined to hold even a hearing on the issue, now in its eighth year. Protest organizer and former state Sen. Nicole LeFavour said before the arrests that activists were determined to stay until committees meet on a bill.

Some of the silent protesters held photos of Maddie Beard, a gay Pocatello teen who committed suicide this month. They wore black shirts with “Add the Four Words” emblazoned on the front, for “sexual orientation” and “gender identity.”

“We have to give young people hope that their state is going to stand up for them,” LeFavour said.

The group has held more than a half-dozen protests this month, with a total of more than 120 arrests.

Some senators — including leaders of the Transportation Committee and Commerce and Human Resources Committee — were blockaded in their offices during the demonstration. As a result, those meetings were canceled.

That was a blow to Dave Lounsberry, who made a five-hour trip from Lewiston to Idaho’s capital city to testify against a payday loan bill in the Senate Commerce and Resources Committee. He said he was sympathetic to the gay rights activists, but it was unfair for the protesters to drown out everyone else as they seek recognition for their cause.

“All of us have a voice,” Lounsberry said. “It’s good they’re being recognized, but now we’re not.”

LeFavour, who retired from the Legislature in 2012, said that was the fault of lawmakers dragging their feet.

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“As soon as the House or Senate schedules a hearing, this won’t be a problem anymore,” she said. “We would love to stop.”

Sen. Marv Hagedorn, R-Meridian, rejected his former colleague’s claim.

“I thought she was here long enough to understand that we make laws on data, not emotion,” Hagedorn said. He called it a waste of money to keep lawmakers sitting idle, as well as unfair to the people who took time out of their daily schedules to testify before the committees.

“It is frustrating,” he said. “It’s not like we don’t understand what their desires are — that was pretty clear their first protest.”

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