By JOHN MILLER
BOISE, Idaho — Police have arrested dozens of gay rights activists, saying their protest blocked entrances to the Idaho Senate chambers for more than two hours.
Idaho State Police say they took 43 people into custody Monday after the demonstrators stood shoulder to shoulder and prevented lawmakers from getting past.
Former state Sen. Nicole LeFavour, the Idaho Legislature’s first openly gay lawmaker and an organizer of the protest, had said the group would block the entrances until lawmakers agreed to take up a bill adding protections for gay and transgender people to the Idaho Human Rights Act.
If lawmakers “get a bill through committee, we would let them in to do their work,” said LeFavour, before she and the others were arrested.
The arrests began after Senate President Pro Tem Brent Hill attempted to enter the chamber about 11 a.m. but was blocked, police said.
“We respect your right to protest, but we also have the right to do the job people elected us to do,” he told them, adding it was “irresponsible” of demonstrators to block the hearing room. “Those are the chambers, and they belong to all the people, not just this group.”
The demonstrators wore “Add the Words Idaho” T-shirts and covered their mouths with their hands, a symbolic gesture intended to call attention to a bill adding workplace and housing protections for gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender individuals to state law.
Hill, R-Rexburg, and other Idaho Republicans have blocked passage of such a proposal for eight years, and they have declined to give such a plan a hearing this year.
The last formal hearing was in 2012.
Hill said he sought to avoid a confrontation by telling his members to remain outside the chambers until the protesters had vacated the entrances.
Protesters, who ranged from high school age to their 60s, said they wanted to make a point.
“I’m a parent of three beautiful girls,” said Ty Carson, 41, a Boise resident. “I have been verbally attacked in bathrooms, locker rooms and in local restaurants. That sort of discrimination should not happen to any of Idaho’s citizens. Until the Legislature says it’s wrong, the message they’re sending is that it’s OK.”
Carson had a crumpled up citation — for misdemeanor trespassing — and the likelihood of a court date. Carson and other protesters were escorted to the front door by a state police trooper and told they could re-enter, provided they didn’t cause a repeat disturbance.
Amid growing tension over whether the “Add the Words” bill will get a hearing, Idaho’s Capitol has been the scene of several low-key protests. On Friday, for instance, a small group with guitars sang songs in the Capitol, urging lawmakers to take up the issue.