If 81 percent of your state’s population reported believing it’s wrong to fire individuals based on their sexual orientation or gender identity, you would think legislators would feel confident enough about the security of their political futures to simply add the terms “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” to their state’s human rights act. But that did not happen and still hasn’t happened in Idaho, this despite a 10-year battle. Just what is going on in Idaho and who are the difference makers? Add the Words sets out to give us those answers and more.
Since 2006, LGBT individuals and their allies in Idaho have been fighting to simply have those four words added to the state’s human rights act. Without them, they are not truly protected against discrimination under the law. This is a reality that’s echoing loud across the U.S. right now. In the wake of the legalization of same-sex marriage, couples can get married one day and find themselves fired the next in many states. That’s just one example of why passing the Equality Act at the federal level is so important and why statewide efforts like those occurring in Idaho remain so vital.
If you were to put a face to Idaho’s battle, fighting out of the pink corner would be Nicole LeFavour, the state’s first openly gay legislator. She served as a state senator from 2008 to 2012 and previously served on the state’s House of Representatives from 2004 to 2008. Probably better than anyone, she knows why the campaign keeps hitting roadblocks: Republicans.
While that might seem obvious, the specifics are just appallingly undemocratic. Each year, the Republicans do straw polling on this issue (rarely done in other cases) and based on their perception of public response to it, they refuse to consider it no matter what changes have been made or what other factors may have come about. As a result of these tactics, the bill was not even granted a hearing for nine years.
With these facts established, the documentary moves on to the role religion plays in all this. Most lawmakers opposing the bill are Mormons playing up to that base. There is, of course, Mormon money at hand here as well. But that’s not to say Mormons are the enemy. In fact, Mistie Tolman is an Add the Words campaign leader and she grew up in an LDS household. She, her partner and their son are featured in the film. So too is a straight Mormon ally, a rabbi and a lesbian woman who found faith again in an accepting church. For all these people and more, religion doesn’t have to be a divide.
But given that this was the way Republicans were playing it and that there was no sign of change in sight, LeFavour stepped things up in 2014: she organized an act of civil disobedience. Note the year–she was no longer a politician then, but she was still clearly a fierce LGBT activist.
The act, which would repeat itself several more times and lead to many arrests, including her own, was simple: stand together hand over mouth to symbolize being silenced by Idaho lawmakers. Oh, and block entrances and exits to and from the Statehouse, the Senate chamber and anywhere else in the building where we can’t be ignored.
Did the words get added because of their actions? No, but they helped prevent something that could’ve been disastrous for the LGBT community in the state. House Bill 427, which was introduced by a Republican in 2014, would’ve essentially made it legal to discriminate against LGBT people if you claimed to have “sincerely held religious beliefs” that motivated doing so. Following three hours of testimony, where only two people spoke in favor of the bill, and then even more protests, it was withdrawn.
Indeed, with all the politics involved, it would be easy to make the mistake of allowing this film to lose its human element. Fortunately, filmmakers Michael D. Gough and Cammie Pavesic made the decision to include intimate interviews with a variety of people, including a lesbian war veteran, a trans woman and her wife, a young trans man and the heartbroken mother of a gay man who took his own life. That’s, of course, not to mention those already discussed.
So where do things stand? Well in January of 2015 the bill was finally heard for the first time. Unfortunately, it was voted down 13-4.
That just means the fight’s not over. Not in Idaho, not in America and not in large parts of the world. But as long as fighters like those featured in Add the Words keep coming forward, I can’t help but believe good work will continue to get done. We must, however, support those fighters and their work.