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Passing Time


Photo by Greg Kreller of The Idaho Press Tribune

BOISE - Once opened, some chapters can take a long time to close. Like the chapter opened on October 31, 1955 in Boise, the capital of Idaho and, with 35,000 people, its largest city.

Three men were arrested, charged with "lewd conduct with a minor child" and "infamous crimes against nature." The investigation leading to the arrests, said one law enforcement official, only "scratched the surface."

A few days later, The Idaho Statesman - the city's daily newspaper - weighed in, calling homosexuality "a moral perversion" and a "cancerous growth...calling for immediate and systematic cauterization." Boise must, it argued, "crush the monster."

Over the next two years, law enforcement answered the call. More than 1,500 people - or about 1 in every 23 Boise residents - would be interviewed. Sixteen men would be arrested and 15 found guilty, most sentenced to terms of six months and five and ten and fifteen years and, in one case, life in prison. The scandal would also be the focus of a book, a documentary, a CBS News special and put Boise on the cover of Time magazine.

Time's supposed to heal all wounds. But fears awakened can linger, scars that harden tend to last. For a generation or two or more.

Which may make the action taken by the Boise City Council, meeting in the Capitol on December 4th, 2012, more than a bit remarkable. Before it was a proposed ordinance prohibiting discrimination in housing, employment or public accommodations on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identification. It passed. Unanimously, making Boise the second Idaho city after Sandpoint to enact the protection. Pocatello, it's reported, may soon be the third.

"The time has come," declared The Statesman's editorial board on the eve of the Council's vote. "No one should have to fear losing their job or their apartment because of their sexual orientation or gender identity." It is "a matter of fundamental fairness." it said, a "logical and sound step." What a difference 57 years make.

What's even more remarkable about what Boise and Sandpoint and other American cities have done is that it's coming from the ground up, not the top down, enacted locally, not mandated by the Federal government. It's "so hard on all of you to give your personal stories," Mayor David Bieter told the 150 people who filled the chamber to support passage, "but that's what matters to us and that's where we see that policy is not a sterile thing" but "something that matters in our community,."

Boise and Sandpoint, it's worth noting, are ahead of our nation's Fair Housing Act which prohibits housing discrimination in housing on the basis of based on race, color, sex, national origin, family status, disability or religion. To this day, it remains silent on sexual orientation and gender identification.

Maybe not for long, thanks, in part, to HUD. In January, 2012, Secretary Shaun Donovan announced publication in The Federal Register of a final rule intended to insure that HUD's core housing programs "are open to all eligible individuals and families regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity, or marital status." The Rule applies to owners and operators of HUD-assisted and insured to lenders making FHA-insured loans and to all HUD-funded programs operated by non-profits or local government. HUD's programs, said the Secretary, should be "open, not to some, not to most, but to all."

That's Boise's goal too. "Many of us here tonight have spent countless hours and much energy on helping to shape our city's future," Council Member Lauren McLean, a co-sponsor of the ordinance, explained to The Boise Weekly just before the vote." My focus-and interest-in being a part of this council is to take steps to build Boise into an even safer, healthier and more livable community for all." The road to equality can be long and bumpy, with setbacks and heartbreaks aplenty. But dare to take the first step and, sooner or later, you'll probably get there.

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