HRC Blog

The Journey to Become “Fair Pocatello”

Pocatello IdahoAs I look over the last two and a half years and see an incredible journey. Passing and then defending Pocatello’s non-discrimination ordinance brought challenges, pain, joy, tears, and new friendships. In short, it has transformed the city I call home and me.

 I had an interest in the LGBT community because my son is gay. This was not an issue I chose; it chose me. From him, I learned what it means to be gay in rural Idaho, and I began to understand the impact a non-discrimination ordinance could have for my friends who are gay or transgender. 

In November 2010, I was appointed to the city's Human Relations Advisory Committee and a few months later we began to explore the possibility of an ordinance to protect gay and transgender citizens from discrimination in housing, employment, and public accommodations. We had just learned that Sandpoint, a very small northern Idaho town, had passed a similar law, and we wondered if we could too. Over the next several months, we gathered personal stories of discrimination; we researched other cities with laws, and contacted organizations such as the Human Rights Campaign, the ACLU of Idaho, and Equality Utah. We presented our findings to the mayor and city council in May 2012.

Nothing about the work to pass the ordinance was easy, but in the end and after many hours of heartfelt and emotional testimony at three different hearings, it was finally passed at 12:30 a.m. on June 7, 2013 with a vote of 4-2. The audience burst into applause, at least the supportive folks did.

Exactly 60 days later, I received a phone call from the councilman who shepherded the ordinance through the adoption process who told me the opposition had taken out a petition to repeal our new law. I felt heartsick because we had worked so hard to adopt it, and among our gay and transgender friends and family, there had been such hope and optimism. From the beginning we knew we had a steep challenge since the repeal vote would be on a Idaho's Primary Election Day ballot with several competitive Republican races. This meant the opposition would have an easy time getting their base out to vote. We would have to work twice as hard.

Our campaign, "Fair Pocatello," launched in March of this year, and we needed to identify our "no voters." (A "yes" vote would overturn the ordinance). For months, we recruited volunteers, made phone calls, knocked on doors, attended public events, advertised, sent fliers, and so much more.

Election night was very tense. However at 2 a.m. we learned we had prevailed by 80 votes. This highlighted how important it was to have such an incredible coalition working on the ground to support those of us who had been leading this effort. We needed the help of the HRC, Planned Parenthood Votes NW, the ACLU, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, the Pride Foundation, and Equality Utah. I believe strongly that minority rights should never be up for popular vote. It makes no sense to me to have the majority vote on the rights of any minority group. Allies and Pocatellans like me were key to retaining our nondiscrimination ordinance.

My life had already changed in very amazing ways through the ordinance adoption process. I had significant time and emotion invested in the issue, so I believed I should do my share of voter contact to make sure we retained the ordinance. I quickly learned that phone calls were not "my thing," but knocking on doors was, and I knocked on hundreds of them in April and May. I met lots of supportive Pocatello citizens on their front doorsteps, and had both ordinary and extraordinary conversations with them about this important issue, all in an effort to get them to vote no. My life was transformed yet again.

 HRC has been a resource from the first days on through to campaign time -- their website provided valuable information for our initial reports to the city council. In the weeks before the election, they loaned us laptops for phone banking and had on-the-ground staff, Trevor Chandler, with us. In the final days, he was joined by National Field Director Marty Rouse. Their presence was a tremendous boost, and just one more positive experience -- this turned a far away organization into a friend. HRC's emblem, the dark blue square with the yellow equal sign, is a symbol that represents more than equality for me now. Because of this election, I know two of the organization's staff members personally, and just like everything I have done regarding this ordinance -- when we see the human side, we understand and learn. I have new respect and admiration for the HRC.

 As I move beyond election night, I feel proud to be from Pocatello. The majority of residents showed that they understood the fairness side of this issue. With Republican ballots running three to one against us and at times, five to one against us, it is important to note that we couldn't have accomplished what we did without the moderate middle choosing to do the right thing. This is a huge victory for equality. Yet, I have been pondering one more notion -- I hope that my example is also a victory for parents and families of gay and transgender persons. Rejection of a child, sibling, or any family member, should become a thing of the past and acceptance and activism, (even a small measure of activism) should become the norm of the day. My heart is very full and very grateful.

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