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Ada County passes sexuality and gender nondiscrimination ordinance in a unanimous vote

For over a decade, advocates have been pushing for the Legislature to add the words “gender identity” and “sexual orientation” to the Idaho Human
Credit: KTVB Staff
Ada County courthouse

BOISE, Idaho — In a unanimous vote on Wednesday, the Ada County Board of Commissioners passed a sexuality and gender identity nondiscrimination ordinance.

Chairwoman Kendra Kenyon said the board has taken too long to make history.

“It’s almost sad we’re waiting this long in Idaho and to do this,” Kenyon said. “The fact we haven’t done this before is a little embarrassing to me.”

The ordinance only applies to areas of unincorporated Ada County, which are outside city limits. According to Add the Words Idaho, over a dozen Idaho cities and one other county have passed their own anti-discrimination ordinances, including Boise and Meridian

At the state level, advocates for over a decade have been pushing for the Legislature to add the words “gender identity” and “sexual orientation” to the Idaho Human Rights Act. These proposals, however, have never gotten out of committee. 

Last month, Sen. Maryanne Jordan, D-Boise, introduced an “Add the Words” bill, co-sponsored by all legislative Democrats in both the House and the Senate.

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Ada County commissioners on Wednesday listened to testimony from two dozen people about the importance of passing a nondiscrimination ordinance in the county, as mothers told stories about fearing for their children’s safety, and people in the LGBTQ community told stories about how they had struggled with discrimination in Idaho.

“As a parent, all I ever want is to protect my child,” Julie Anderson told the commission. “My daughter is lesbian, and I cannot protect her by myself. … All we want for our children is what other folks get given to them.”

The nondiscrimination ordinance’s goal is to make sure “all persons, regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity/expression enjoy the full benefits of citizenship and are afforded equal opportunities for employment, housing, commercial property and the use of public accommodations.”

Several people testifying Wednesday night related their stories of workplace and housing discrimination. Saga Christian, a schoolteacher in Meridian, said at various times, due to her identity as a trans woman, people had refused to offer her a place to live or had not given her an interview.

“I found it difficult to find places to live. People would tell me they had openings and when they saw me, suddenly there weren’t any openings,” Christian said.

Christian said once, when interviewing for a position, all the other candidates were taken into another room to be interviewed, but when she was the last person in the room, they shut the lights off and left her in the dark.

The ordinance prohibits a number of specific actions based on sexual orientation or gender identity or gender expression, including:

  • Refusing to hire someone
  • Firing someone
  • Paying different wages
  • Stopping someone from working
  • Denying someone a lease, sale or rental of any housing accommodation
  • Discriminating against someone through the terms and conditions of a lease, sale or rental, or through maintenance, improvement or repairs

RELATED: Ada County adopts non-discrimination ordinance: 'A clear message of inclusivity and tolerance'

There are exceptions to the rule. Religious corporations, associations, educational institutions or societies are all exempt, as well as any United States or state of Idaho institution. The law also has an exception for members of families living in the same home.

Idaho Rep. John McCrostie, D-Garden City, the first openly gay man elected to the Idaho Legislature, also testified in front of the board in favor of the ordinance, noting it would bring more of the county and more of his district to be protected by non-discrimination ordinances.

“It’s quite an irony that two-thirds of my district is protected and one-third is not,” McCrostie said.

Boise passed an anti-discrimination ordinance in 2012, and Meridian in 2018. McCrostie lives in Garden City, which does not have an ordinance, a situation he said was like living in a doughnut, where Garden City was the hole.

“By passing this ordinance, you will increase the size of the doughnut and decrease the size of that doughnut hole,” McCrostie said.

Violating the county’s ordinance comes with penalties of:

  • First offense: $250 fine plus court costs
  • Any subsequent offense within five years of a previous violation: misdemeanor, up to six months in jail and up to a $1,000 fine

According to the ordinance, anyone who wishes to file a complaint must report it to local law enforcement within 180 days of the alleged conduct, after which it will then be looked over by the Ada County Prosecutor’s Office. And anyone filing a false report will be charged with providing false information to law enforcement, a misdemeanor.

The importance of passing the ordinance is both economic and ethical, according to Commissioner Diana Lachiondo.

“It’s both the head and the heart,” Lachiondo told the gathered crowd.

“It’s the right thing to do from an economic development standpoint … and we’ve talked a lot over the years about the impacts, stigma and not feeling like you’re a welcome part of the community and how that can impact young kids,” she said.

“On a more personal note, this is fundamental to certainly who I am and who I believe we are as a community.”

Commissioner Rick Visser, the sole Republican on the commission, agreed with Lachiondo and pointed to 1 Corinthians 13 in the Bible — the well-known passage that includes “Love is patient, love is kind” — as his rationale for voting yes to the ordinance.

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