Idaho looks at lack of sexual orientation protections

BOISE, Idaho (AP) - State leaders are watching to see if business recruitment efforts are affected by Idaho's lack of nondiscrimination law covering sexual orientation, according to the director of the state Department of Commerce.

The agency plans to pay the matter close attention "because as that issue evolves and develops, we're going to need to be prepared to respond to it," director Jeff Sayer told The Spokesman-Review.

Idaho's conservative Republican lawmakers have rejected attempts to expand the state's Human Rights Act to protect gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people from job and housing discrimination.

In northern Idaho, Sandpoint Mayor Marsha Ogilvie said she was surprised to learn her city recently became the first in the state to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

"When it passed, there was a round of applause from the audience," Ogilvie said.

In southeastern Idaho, Pocatello is drafting a similar policy, while officials in Boise, the state capital, are also looking into an ordinance.

While there's no evidence to suggest absence of a statewide law has hurt business recruitment, it's had a negative impact in other states, said Clifford Rosky, a University of Utah law professor who has done extensive research on law and sexual orientation.

"It's a national trend," Rosky said.

Nationwide, 21 states have enacted laws banning discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations based on sexual orientation. Of those states, 16 also ban discrimination based on gender identity, the newspaper said.

"Most Americans don't realize that in many places it is still legal to be fired, denied housing or thrown out of a business for being gay," said Jeana Frazzini, executive director of Basic Rights Oregon, which pushed for that state's law.

In Utah, Rosky said, employers are seeking a law to protect individuals from being discriminated against over their gender identity or sexual orientation. Business leaders have been a powerful force in the debate, said Rosky, who predicted it was a matter of time before Idaho began hearing similar calls from its employers.

Several major companies in Idaho, including businesses that have backed previous efforts to expand nondiscrimination protections, either declined to comment or referenced their companywide nondiscrimination policy. At least one employer said it hasn't been an issue.

"That has not been on my radar screen at all," said Steve Griffitts, president of Jobs Plus in Coeur d'Alene, which recruits about 25 companies a year to move to northern Idaho.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Idaho said many major corporations and national companies doing business in the state already have nondiscrimination policies for their own workforces, including Micron Technology, Albertsons, Microsoft, Alaska Airlines and Starbucks.

But that still could leave their workers vulnerable to discrimination in housing and other areas, said Monica Hopkins, executive director of the ACLU of Idaho.

"Everyone talks about Idaho and our quality of life, but fundamental to someone's quality of life is knowing that you're not going to get fired because of who you are," she said.