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Playing the 'No Special Rights' Card: End of the Line

In some of the strongest evidence that these dangerous and hateful scare tactics are losing steam (and that Idaho is more progressive than France), the Couer d'Alene city council voted Tuesday, June 4, to adopt rules protecting LGBT citizens, with a strong five-to-one vote.
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A recent opportunity to speak at a regional conference of pharmacists took me to Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, a city layered with complexity. With a population of about 50,000, CDA (as they call it up there) has clean air, beautiful mountains, gorgeous surroundings, and a political climate with about as mixed a bag as you could find. Northern Idaho has been known to many as a hotspot for white supremacists, and this has defined the area to many outsiders for years.

Unbeknownst to me, a big topic in the area recently has been a proposal by the local government to adopt anti-discrimination language offering new protection to local LGBT citizens. The day I arrived, I found the Couer d'Alene Press, the colorful local newspaper, predictably dominated by letters, articles and editorials about the issue.

One "My Turn" reader column was penned by a local pastor opposing the ordinance. I had forgotten about this argument, fortunately living in a relatively liberal urban area of Seattle where we don't hear much about "no special rights for gays," at least not anymore. But reading the pastor's column reminded me of the dangerous appeal and power of such an argument, because the "no special rights for the gays" argument is simply a veiled way of saying, "Here they come, and they're going to take away your values, your tradition, and your beliefs." The danger of such an argument is obvious, with its circle-the-wagons appeal and its caricature of selfish and self-centered homosexuals bent on destroying old values and those who hold them.

The argument, of course, is that when LGBT citizens gain protections, what we're really doing is taking away the rights of traditionalists to express their beliefs by not renting to, selling to, hiring, or serving LGBT citizens. And of course let's not forget the right to fire employees from jobs based on perception of their sexual orientation, which is something that just happened in the northern Idaho area.

Tony Stewart and Christie Wood, board members of the the Kootenai County Task Force on Human Relations, wrote a calm and extremely articulate rebuttal to the "no special rights" column, and in it they described what happened:

One of the most grievous and sad cases happened recently in a northern Idaho city during the death of a same-sex partner. The obituary announcing the gay man's death included the name of his same-sex surviving partner. Upon seeing the obituary, the employer of the surviving partner fired him upon learning of the gay relationship. The grieving partner had to now also deal with loss of his income during one of the most painful moments of his life. Once again the gentleman had no legal remedy.

As I watched this play out in the CDA paper, I remembered the "no special rights for gays" argument from years ago, and remembered what I had forgotten, which is the dark and disturbing appeal it holds, even for decent people who are subject to the psychological manipulation that goes along with this argument: "They" are different; "they" are coming; "they" are going to take away your world. "They" must be stopped.

But in some of the strongest evidence possible that these dangerous and hateful scare tactics are losing steam, and that the world is changing in ways that are irreversible, and that Idaho is more progressive than France, the Couer d'Alene city council voted Tuesday, June 4, to adopt rules protecting LGBT citizens, with a strong five-to-one vote. Of course, it ain't over until it's over, but inspiring acts like this, with communities increasingly embracing equality and rejecting the old arguments, sure do make me think we're in the fourth quarter. Excellent work, Couer d'Alene, and congratulations to our LGBT family there, who are at least a little safer today than they were on June 3.