The ASUI Senate urged the Idaho state legislature to add “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” to the protected clauses of the Idaho Human Rights Act Wednesday.
The senate passed an amended version of resolution S13-02, after it was discussed at the previous meeting, and while it passed, the vote was close.
Because several concerns were raised about the tone of the bill, ASUI Director of Diversity Affairs Samantha Hansen decided to amend the resolution before sending it to the legislature.
“I thought the first resolution was kind of lacking in a couple areas,” Hansen said. “I am pretty busy, so I wrote it and I didn’t think all the pros and cons through all the way. When the senate heard it they were like, ‘oh what about this.’ After hearing the concerns raised, and talking to the senators who voted no, I decided to amend it.”
Hansen said the idea for the resolution started when ASUI Student Lobbyist Andrew Blake brought the “Add the Words Campaign” to her attention. He asked her if she would be interested to partner with a senator and try to get a resolution through the senate.
Senator Max Cowan, who sponsored the resolution, said the changes were focused primarily on language. Several senators expressed concerns that some of the “whereas clauses” within the first draft could be construed as condescending to the legislature.
The concerns with tone were addressed and two clauses were added, one stressing that more than 50 percent of students live off campus and are not protected by the UI’s policy of nondiscrimination, and mentioning that university alumni who choose to stay in Idaho are not protected.
“An important thing to note is that we are not calling for social change with this resolution,” Cowan said. “The Idaho Human Rights Act provides protections in living for Idaho residents. These things should not be denied to anyone.”
ASUI President Hannah Davis said the resolution shows they care about everyone in the state having equal rights.
“So that’s what students stand for,” she said
Hansen also said it affects people outside the LGBTQ community.
“These words are not in there right now, and what that means is that anyone can be fired, and here’s the thing, you don’t even have to be queer,” Hansen said. “Someone could just think you are and they could fire you. This isn’t just a gay rights issue, it is an everybody issue. Even if you aren’t gay, you have no legal recourse because this discrimination is totally legal.”
Senator Bruno Arama, one of the most outspoken critics of the resolution, expressed concerns about how the resolution exceeds the reach of ASUI.
“Because we have such a conservative legislature they might look down upon us for it,” Arama said. “I think it comes down to picking your battles, and I don’t think this one can be won for at least another decade.”
Blake said he isn’t worried the resolution will harm UI in any way.
“While with such a conservative legislature, gay equality and rights are contentious, but I am not concerned because ASISU has already passed a similar amendment, and ASBSU is discussing a similar amendment and I would be surprised if it didn’t pass,” Blake said. “Not to mention that any concern that it would impact funding is misfounded. The state doesn’t fund ASUI, they fund UI, and if they were to cut funding based on a student organization it stands to reason that they would cut funding for the other institutions as well. I just don’t think that’s likely.”
Blake said the goal of the resolution is to create media pressure in an effort to get the amendments to add the words out of the State Affairs Subcommittee, where they have been stuck for the last seven years. Blake said the amendments were not even printed last year, and there has not been a public hearing on the issue.
Hansen offered what she said is a realistic perspective on this goal.
“While getting it out of committee is the goal, we are hopeful, but not naive,” Hansen said.
Andrew Deskins can be reached at email@example.com