BOISE, Idaho — Police arrested roughly two dozen gay rights activists Monday after protesters refused to leave the Idaho Senate and House chambers in an attempt to pressure lawmakers into passing anti-discrimination protections.
Idaho State Police said they arrested 23 people on suspicion of misdemeanor trespassing, two of whom were juveniles.
Activists taking part in the demonstration warned beforehand they would not voluntarily leave until legislators consider adding four words — sexual orientation and gender identity — to the Idaho Human Rights Act. They wore black-and-white "Add the 4 Words Idaho" T-shirts and stood silently by covering their mouths with their hands.
"Plain and simply, it is time the Idaho Legislature to use its voice to set the field level for those who live quiet lives in all our communities, those who are your own daughters and sons, those who deserve for our state to set in law that unfair businesses practices and intentional cruelty and discrimination against them is wrong," the group wrote in a statement provided to media.
Earlier this year, Republican lawmakers rejected legislation that would have amended the state's Human Rights Act, which currently bans workplace and housing discrimination based on race, gender or religion. A House committee listened to more than 20 hours of testimony, most of it in favor of passing the bill, but concern over the bill's impact on religious freedoms led the panel to vote the measure down.
Gay rights advocates have pushed for such legislation for nearly a decade. However, the movement peaked during the 2014 legislative session when dozens of protesters were repeatedly arrested for blocking access to the Senate chambers and committee rooms when lawmakers refused to hold a hearing on the matter.
To date, 22 states have passed some form of anti-discrimination laws.
In Idaho, 10 cities have bypassed the state and approved their own legal sexual orientation and gender identity protections.