We Stand United

Last Friday I had the great privilege of representing the university for which I work at the Human Rights Rally in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. The crowd filled every corner of the Human Rights Education Institute, housed in an old railroad building at the city park.

For me this was a homecoming of sorts. Born in Lewiston, I’m an Idaho native and formerly served in the Idaho state legislature. The crowd held friends and supporters: former State Sen. Mary Lou Reed; Tony Stewart, long-time human rights advocate and former North Idaho College political science prof; human rights stalwart, attorney and former North Idaho College trustee Norm Gissel; Barb Harris of the North Idaho Labor Council; and others I haven’t seen in a long time.

We have stood together before in support of human rights and in opposition to bigotry. We lined Sherman Avenue in downtown Coeur d’Alene and turned our backs in silence when Aryan Nations founder Richard Butler and his acolytes jackbooted down the street; human rights supporters made lemonade out of lemons. We worked to defeat the anti-gay Prop. 1 in 1994. We supported the creation of the Gay/Straight Alliance at North Idaho College—a club initially rejected by student government leaders and ultimately approved by the Board of Trustees.

Last week’s rally took place in the face of a visit to Spokane and Coeur d’Alene by the Westboro Baptist Church (which is not a part of any official Baptist organization). About a half-dozen people affiliated with the WBC went to several higher education campuses, three high schools and an evangelical Jewish synagogue to hold up signs with messages of hate for Americans, veterans, people who are gay or Jewish, and others.

The visit was probably triggered by a performance of The Laramie Project at NIC, since the WBC often targets that. You should have heard the crowd go wild when NIC students walked through holding up posters for the play. 

When Norm Gissel and I talked after the event, we had to marvel at how far we have come. We know we have far to go, but it was only 15 years ago that student leaders at NIC were uncomfortable with the idea of openly gay students having a recognized club. The Board of Trustees (on which Norm served at the time) had to stand up for the First Amendment and the rights of the students to organize and there was still discomfort in the community when I won a seat on the board on the following year. Today political candidates list endorsements from GLBTQA organizations in their ads.

I can’t resist live tweeting events for that “you are there” quality, albeit in 140 characters. Here are a few to give you a taste, but you really had to be there to taste the energy, the excitement, the victory.
My parents raised me to believe in the dignity and worth of every human being. Those are Idaho values. Washington values. American values. Human values.

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