By KIMBERLEE KRUESI
BOISE, Idaho — Nearly two dozen gay-rights activists who were arrested after they blocked doorways in the Idaho Statehouse were sentenced in front of an emotional and packed courtroom in Boise’s 4th District Court.
The 23 defendants took part in peaceful protests during the 2014 legislative session as part of an effort to convince lawmakers to add legal protections for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender residents in Idaho’s Human Rights Act.
More than half of the protesters had been sentenced as of 5 p.m. Monday. Each protester was given a chance to offer a brief statement before being ordered to pay court costs based on how many times they were arrested while protesting. They also had to participate in community service.
The group, Add the 4 Words Idaho, held multiple protests in the Capitol after lawmakers refused to hold a hearing on the issue. More than 190 arrests were made before the Legislative session ended in March. The four words the group wants to add to the state’s anti-discrimination law are “sexual orientation” and “gender identity.”
At times, the courtroom became emotional after attorneys called two mothers who both had a child commit suicide after facing discrimination to speak.
Julie Zicha, who just recently moved from Pocatello, said she became involved in the Add the 4 Words effort after she lost her son in 2012.
Her 19-year-old son Ryan, Zicha said, faced years of housing and employment discrimination while living in Pocatello.
In school, he was physically and verbally abused, she said. After graduation, employers consistently refused to consider him for a job, Zicha said.
“Those four words would be enough for those who don’t have hope,” Zicha said, taking brief moments to compose herself. “It sends a message. Every day we wait, we are at risk of losing another kid.”
Zicha sat next to Carmen Stanger, whose 15-year-old daughter Matty committed suicide in February.
Holding back tears, Stanger said Idaho lost a great citizen and would continue to lose great citizens unless the four words were added. “One life lost is one life too many, and you can’t put a price on that,” she said.
The state attorneys called up Idaho State Police Major Steve Richardson, who oversaw executive protection during the Add the 4 Words protests.
The group’s peaceful demeanor helped the arrests go smoothly, but they still put a burden on the state’s limited staff and resources, Richardson said.
In total, it cost the Idaho State Police nearly $24,000 to staff and arrest the protesters, Richardson said. That number doesn’t include the costs of local law enforcement agencies that were also called in to help with the protests throughout February and March.
“During the protests, it virtually eliminated three officers from doing proactive patrol,” he said. “It caused a diversion of resources and limitations of services.”
Defense attorney Jeffrey Brownson countered that no one looks back during the civil rights protests of the 1960s and remembers the cost of equality protections.
District Judge Michael Oths said he appreciated the group’s approach in its multiple protests. He added, however, that America’s history of civil disobedience has involved accepting consequences for breaking the law.
“You put your name on the line, and it’s not easy to do that,” Oths said. “I think people have been responsible in their approach.”