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Parents of gay and trans kids lobby for protection bill in Idaho State Capitol

Parents of gay and trans kids lobby for protection bill in Idaho State Capitol

Parents of gay and trans kids in Idaho made emotional appeals in the Idaho Capitol on Monday.

The moms and dads spoke out during a hearing for a bill that would add sexual orientation and gender identity to the state’s Human Rights Act – alongside race and religion.

The hearing, in front of the House State Affairs Committee, began at 8am on Monday morning. Deomstrating how divisive an issue it is for locals, by 9am,over 600 people had signed up wishing to speak, reports the Idaho Statesman.

Speaking first in favor of the bill was Bill Roden, a lobbyist, former legislator and prosecutor, who talked publicly for the first time about the experiences of his gay son. Roden also spoke out about Idaho’s record on civil protections, reminding those assembled that Idaho was the fourth state to grant women the right to vote.

‘I think the people need to be free from the fear of discrimination,’ he said. ‘They need to feel that they can rest comfortably in the right to have employment and be judged on their merits in that regard.’

One of those who then got the opportunity to speak on Monday was Julie Zicha, whose son, Ryan, committed suicide when he was 19.

Zicha and her family relocated to Pocatello, Idaho from Washington when Ryan, who was gay, was 15. Zicha said that it was when they moved that Ryan began to be bullied because of his sexuality – culminating in physical assault.

She said that even when her son left school, the harassment did not stop but simply took on a different form, such as an occasion when he was turned down for an apartment because the landlord found out about his sexuality.

In 2011, she and her husband received late-night text messages from their son that said; ‘Please forgive me. Please remember always this is not your fault.’ He then killed himself.

Zicha now works with LGBT youths and says that they are often despondent because, ‘they see no hope of a brighter future for themselves.’

Also speaking in support of the ‘Add the Words’ bill was Diane Terhune, whose child came out as transgender at the age of 12.

‘My son now presents as my daughter and I can’t bear the thought of my precious child being treated unfairly by anyone simply for being herself,’ she said.

Another speaker was 16-year-old trans teenager Oliver Simon, who attended with his mother, Tamara Darbin, reports the Idaho Press.

Darbin encouraged her son to speak out about his experiences of being trans, and he told the committee that when he openly began to reveal to people that he was trans: ‘I was told I should be punished because of my immorality, and my identity could be all right if I never acted on it. But identity is a building block of all of us.’

Those supporting the bill have been trying to have it heard for the past nine years.

Opponents of the bill also spoke at the hearing, with many voicing the opinion that such a bill would infringe upon their freedom of religious expression. The case of Arlene’s Flowers was mentioned – a Washington florist facing a lawsuit for refusing to arrange flowers for a same-sex wedding.

Speaking against the bill was Pocatello resident Heather Disselkoen, who said: ‘There is overwhelming evidence that people of faith are being punished for their beliefs across this country. Enactment of this law would absolutely guarantee victims in Idaho.’

Peter Sprigg, a Senior Fellow for Policy Studies of the Family Research Council, said that sexual orientation and gender identity could not be compared to race, color and sex as the latter where ‘involuntary and immutable’, while the former involve ‘chosen behavior’.

Public testimony to the House State Affairs Committee is continuing.