I Have a Dream — For All of Idaho

Diane Anderson-Minshall
Boise LGBT Pride Rally

June 10, 2006 
 

 

Diane Anderson-Minshall at Boise's Pride Celebration

Picture by
Kathy Belge

About Lesbian Life - lesbianlife.about.com

Wow, look at this amazing crowd. I have an admission; the last time I stood on these Capital steps was in 1990. It was during Boise’s first Gay Pride. It was here, on that day, on these very same steps, that I met my husband. Of course, at the time, we were both idealistic and impatient 22-year-old lesbians who were here in Boise on a reprieve from our other lives in bigger cities. We were here because we wanted changes in Idaho, the state we both grew up in and still call home, to happen faster.

      In the days before Boise’s first Gay Pride parade, I remember shadowing those pioneering organizers --Ann Dunklin, Brian Berquist and others -- as they prepared to bring the citizens of Idaho, ready or not, into the next phase of our collective coming out. It’s hard to describe the mixture of fear and excitement that LGBT people felt that first year. I’ve been to hundreds of Gay Prides around the country since then and I’m always reminded that in big cities like San Francisco and New York it’s very easy to forget that what is now essentially a huge daylong celebration is for many people in Idaho still a tremendous act of courage. It’s also remarkably exhilarating to be witnessing the growing diversity and great number of supporters and allies we have with us today.

      My friend Howard Bragman often recalls that one of the most moving moments of his life was marching in the parade with his parents in the PFLAG contingent. The cheering of the parade watchers was so overwhelming—because, let’s face it, we love it when our parents show their support for us--and his mother started crying and she said, “This must be what it feels like it’s like to win Wimbledon.”

      That is what Pride is all about: our willingness on this day to stand up in front of, not just our allies, but all of our fellow Idahoans--and through the TV cameras, in some cases, all of America--and say that we’re proud to be lesbian, gay, trans, bisexual, intersex, genderqueer or anything else that falls outside the ideological absolutism of those who are against social diversity.

      Notice I didn’t say Christian conservatives, because my family is filled with Christian conservatives as well as Catholics, Baptists, Mormons, Jehovah Witnesses, Buddhists and Assembly of God members. They love me and my partner for who we are, who we’ve always been, even though in some ways that’s changed dramatically in the 16 years since we’ve been together and the 18 years since I’ve been out. Our conservative Christian family members show their love for us, they say, because Jesus told his followers not to hate, not to judge and not to discriminate by saying, “If you do it unto the least of these, my brothers, you do it unto me.” 
 

      And I hope those family members and all of yours will remember that this fall, as we battle one of the biggest fights progressive Idahoans have faced: the anti-marriage amendment. When Jake and I fell in love in 1990, we moved in together and months later registered as domestic partners in West Hollywood--one of the only places to allow it at the time--and decided to officially return together to Idaho to attend Idaho State University. We wanted to make changes.

      As we attempted to get into married student housing at ISU, we were denied, and it hit home: the very real importance of legal recognition and protection of our relationship. Recognition, for us, became a quest. We registered again in several different California cities as the years went on; each new domestic partnership heralded, for us, yet another city in which we were safe.

      In 2004, during San Francisco’s frenzied weeks of same-sex wedding licenses, we spent a rushed, riotous and wonderfully sublime day in line to marry each other. It was legal for about two minutes. Though we have always had the legal paperwork that secures the relationships of same-sex couples—durable power of attorney, medical power of attorney, wills, estate planning and so on--the documents haven’t always helped.  
 

      There were hospitals that didn’t allow us to visit each other, insurance policies that wouldn’t cover both of us, student loans we couldn’t consolidate, landlords who wouldn’t rent to us, credit card companies that wouldn’t let us speak about the other person’s account even if they had a legal document on their desk saying we could. If any of our family members had tried to intervene in our lives, in most instances they would have won.

      Then Jake went through sex reassignment surgery and publicly transitioned from a lesbian woman to a transgender man and marriage was suddenly, finally, a legal option. We were thrilled and a little ashamed of the sudden privilege.  Earlier this year we renewed our vows in a wedding ceremony attended by most of our family and friends and overnight, it seemed, every thing was different.

      You might ask: after 15 years of marriage that wasn’t recognized what could legal recognition really change?  I am embarrassed to say, a lot.

      I can honestly tell you, our fears weren’t hyperbole; they weren’t unfounded. Legal marriage does change things because it changes how the world treats you. I’ve realized in these three months as a woman legally married to a man, that if we hadn’t spent years denied these rights, I probably wouldn’t realize what privileges I have today.

      And our best examples are not extreme cases of discrimination; they’re all the small ways in which life gets simplified for legally wed couples because tax filings are easier, estate planning and hospital visitation doesn’t require an army of paperwork and deciding to expand your family is considered almost a requirement instead of a great violation of the public’s trust.

      For the last 16 years, talking to credit card companies about an account in my partner’s name has been a huge battle, where customer service reps often spend 30 minutes on the phone looking for an affidavit on file that says I’m allowed to discuss my partner’s account. The day after the wedding I said the new magic word—husband--and they immediately gave me access; no wait, no questions, no verification. Our president firmly believes that marriage is an enduring and sacred institution. I agree, and that’s why I’ve fought for almost 20 years to have that right.  And it’s why I’m here today. I want to talk about marriage because I finally, completely understand how critical it is for gays and lesbians, and bisexual and transgender individuals to have security, protection and equality for our relationships. This is a battle about families and family values and it reaches across lines of race, faith, class, gender identity and culture. The lives of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people can, even in 2006, be mere pawns in a larger political fight about sinking ratings, party politics, and upcoming re-elections.

      But still, 2006 is so different from 1990 in ways I could never have imagined. I didn’t imagine we’d be talking about some of the issues our politicians and activists debate today. I never expected a time when the top rated, Emmy-winning talk show would be helmed by a lesbian, that a love story about gay cowboys and a drama about a transgender woman finding herself would each win mainstream awards and box office dollars, that Hollywood celebrities, fashion models and major league ball players would come out of the closet.

      I would have never thought Batwoman would come out as a lesbian, or that the vice president’s gay Republican daughter would have a best selling book or that Willie nelson would write a gay love song. I never foresaw the amazing up swell in queer teens demanding access to prom; not separate but equal events—kids today demand the right to take their same sex dates to their own school events alongside their heterosexual friends. In record numbers, LGBT folks are serving in political offices; queer police officers and union leaders have secured equal treatment of same-sex partners from employers. And, after 30 long freakin’ years of battle, Washington State has finally passed an anti-discrimination bill.

      Today, the LGBT community finally sees that our rights, gay rights, are human rights and we are building coalitions with other groups who are politically, culturally or socio-economically disenfranchised.

      When activists from any rights group get on stage and repeats Martin Luther King Junior’s oft-quoted phrase, “'Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere” it’s a rallying cry to us, to remember why solidarity is so important. And when I see that solidarity here today I am reminded again, of why I am proud to be an Idahoan.

      I hate to admit that I’ve gained many of the rights I have as a lesbian by leaving Idaho. That’s because we have the most expansive domestic partnership law in the country in California. But in California I feel like an expatriate, an immigrant who went in search of work and civil liberties-- a person who lives among them but is not of them.  But when people from California, and other states, think they know what Idaho is about, they are almost always wrong. Idaho is a land of immense beauty, and great diversity has moved throughout our state. In the beginning there were the Shoshone, Bannock, Paiute and Plateau tribes, then the largely Hawaiian staff of early Fort Boise, the Mexican vaqueros who populated Boise in the 1800s and now the Latino immigrants who have peopled the rural areas since the 1980s. African Americans and Mormons both came here to escape persecution elsewhere. During the gold rush Idaho’s population was one-quarter Chinese and even today Boise still boasts the largest Basque community in the US. 
 

The people of this state elected the first Jewish governor in the nation and the first Native American to be elected attorney general. Women have had a strong voice in Idaho: we have the only state seal designed by a woman, we were the first state to ratify the ERA, one of the first to become a community property state, and the fourth in the nation to give women the right to vote.  Among my friends and family in Idaho are self-described redneck ranchers, liberal academics, button down Republicans, environmentalists, a middle class grocery store manager, an underground miner, a conservative who agrees with Helen Chenoweth on the salmon issue, and a small town beauty salon owner who can’t believe all her friends voted for George Bush. Each of these people believes you vote for the candidate and for the issue, and not for the political party. I want all these people to be our allies in this fight for our rights.

      My great grandparents arrived in this area 4 years after women were given the right to vote. My grandfather was a staunch republican; my grandmother, a hard-line democrat who served as a municipal judge. My family always believed in the political process and the ability of our legislators to protect the citizens of Idaho. Through four generations members of my family have counted politicians from both parties as friends, from William Borah to Frank Church, from Dwight Eisenhower to Ronald Reagan.

My grandmother, who was also one of the first female radiologists in the Northwest, believed so strongly in reproductive rights for women that she would never call herself a Republican. But one of her dearest friends was Republican Senator James McClure. A Payette native, McClure worked alongside my grandmother as prosecutor in Payette in the 1950s and 60s. Besides respect, what my grandmother and Senator McClure agreed on were many of the same issues: about family, security and fiscal responsibility. My Democratic grandmother and her Republican husband also respected each other’s individual differences and though they sought to get there through different means, my grandparents wanted the same things for Idaho. It’s what I want for Idaho today.

      I want an Idaho in which kids can get world-class educations, an economy where young people can find jobs instead of fleeing to larger cities, a tax system that protects middle and low income families, offers preservation of Idaho’s natural resources and wilderness as well as our recreation areas, access to healthcare, security for all families and preservation of individual rights. I want a state that is fiscally responsible and socially just.The preservation of civil rights and liberties is essential to the well being of a Democratic society and in my heart I can’t believe that two thirds of my fellow Idahoans would vote to amend our Constitution in order to build discrimination into law.

      That’s why I’m imploring all of you, regardless of your feelings on marriage or your fear of coming out to your co-workers, to sit down and ask every person you know to think long and hard about this constitutional amendment. Even if they don’t support same-sex marriages, I’m hoping they’ll see why this amendment is so very un-Idahoan.

      Nationwide, and this includes Idaho, more than half those polled in surveys support some form of legal recognition for that would protect same-sex couples, our kids, our families, our livelihoods. If your friends, colleagues, or family members vote for this amendment, they’d do more than prohibit same sex marriage; their vote would prohibit any recognition, now or in the future, of domestic partnership, civil unions, or any relationship that approximates marriage, including unions between men and women that are not licensed by the state.

      Please make sure your mom and dad understand that with this amendment any rights associated with married spouses, such as the automatic right to visit a spouse in the hospital, cannot be conferred on same-sex or other unmarried couples. Remind them that if 40 percent of Idahoans are likely to be partnered but not married at some time, this law will affect almost half of all straight Idahoans as well as the LGBT community.

Since married heterosexual families with kids make up less than one quarter of American households, and one third of children live with either single parents or two unmarried parents, we’re talking about a law that can have dire consequences for vast numbers of Idaho families—many of whom don’t realize what kinship they share with gays and lesbians in this election year.

      Don’t get me wrong. It is LGBT people who are in the crosshairs here. But it’s a myopic measure to accord us with the power to alter the institution of marriage. The problem is not that we don’t have family values; it’s that we often do. We value children, family life, the American dream we’ve all been promised by the Constitution.

      The constitution promised us life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness and it said that whenever any form of government becomes destructive to these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it. That’s what I want to beg all Idahoans to do; to vote with your conscience and recognize there is no way I or any other queer person can fundamentally alter Western civilization (though I do want to thank the Idaho Values Alliance for affording me that kind of power).  
 

      Before her death, Corretta Scott King said, “Gay and lesbian people have families, and their families should have legal protections, whether by marriage or civil union. A constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriages is a form of gay bashing, and it would do nothing at all to protect traditional marriages.”

      And she’s absolutely right. In an era where almost half of all heterosexual marriages end within 15 years, and almost 70 percent of men and 60 percent of women admit to cheating on their spouse, I think it’s safe to say that gays aren’t destroying the institution of marriage. We seem to the only people fighting to save it. The reality is that marriage has changed dramatically over the history of mankind. Remember that Deuteronomy dictated how property was to be divided among multiple wives; King Solomon had hundreds. Even in the last 50 years, dramatic changes have been made: women are no longer legal property of their husbands, divorce is now commonplace, and contraceptives are available to married couples in all states.

      And yes, alternative family formations have become the norm. That’s why I’m asking all Idahoans speak out about the reality of your family so everyone can see how this law might affect you and those around you.  
 

      Tell people you love that their silence will create a distortion in public policy and it will have negative spiritual consequences for all families who don’t meet the norm. If people who care about us don’t speak up, rather than nurturing and supporting the diversity of family in Idaho, they are party to attacking it. The grandmother raising her grandchildren, the gay or lesbian parents, the single divorced moms, the foster kids being raised by adults not related by blood--they are all made to feel inferior, unimportant, second class--and now fundamentally not worthy of protection.

      Please do not let your discomfort with what feels like private issues detract from your courage to talk openly about your family.  We have many allies in this fight over our rights. Never before has such a wide coalition of groups--from the Ecumenical Catholic Church and the NAACP to the Mexican American Legal Defense Fund--come together to call for an end to the unfair treatment of same sex couples and their families. In Idaho alone, several organizations are fighting this amendment, and fighting for social justice for all Idahoans, including YFFN, the ACLU, Idaho Women’s Network and The Interfaith Alliance. Religious leaders nationwide have been staunch critics of both Idaho’s and the federal anti-marriage amendments, because they are among the first constitutional amendments to limit the ability of the democratic process to expand individual rights.

A huge number of theologians and religious leaders have publicly told their legislators that these amendments are wrong because they take away religious freedom; it is matter of religious freedom to allow faith communities to practice their faith by blessing unions between same sex couples who wish to make a commitment to each other while allowing denominations that oppose such marriages to refrain from doing so.

      So please celebrate today—laugh, dance, love and toast our successes—and tomorrow use this energy to tell anyone who’ll listen, that this amendment will leave thousands of families in Idaho legally vulnerable. Tell them that the amendment itself is a diversion from the real issues we need to confront like ensuring a robust economy, preserving small farms, and improving education. And remind them that this amendment may just be a huge waste of everyone’s time: Georgia courts recently showed that even a constitutional amendment can be struck down as unconstitutional.

      I’m heartened by the fact that one of the biggest movies at the box office today is X-Men 3. It’s a big budget, action film that essentially asks whether there should be a cure for the things that make people different from each other and it parallels issues like assimilation, tolerance and how we perceive real-life differences like deafness, dwarfism or sexual orientation.

      I won’t give away the plot, which has sparked debate nationwide about whether differences should be eliminated, but I will say the film resonates with so many Americans because we are a nation of individuals, each and every one of us different from the next.

      Difference, multiplicity, individualism are all benchmarks of America’s foundation. It is our collective differences that make the nation, and Idaho, what it is. For gays, lesbians, bisexuals, transgender folks, the rich tapestry of our community is often overwhelming to people outside it. But within our difference lies our inherent sameness; we may be a part of the queer community but we’re also a part of many other communities—cities and neighborhoods, churches, schools, book groups, families.

      There are thousands of queer Idahoans. We work hard and pay our taxes. We serve in the military. We go to church. We care for our parents, our kids, and our communities. We simply want to go about our lives and pursue our own happiness. But our families deserve the same protections; we all deserve a pro-family movement that includes all kids, all families in Idaho. Please tell everyone that this amendment is wrong and it’s anti-family. I believe with absolute moral certainty that Idaho is better than that.

 

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