NAMPA — When Meridian City Council passed an ordinance last year banning discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, Nampa became the state’s most populous city without such a ban.
Mayor Debbie Kling said she doesn’t expect the city to pursue an “Add the Words” ordinance any time soon.
“The council is pretty well all on the same page that we probably won’t move forward with an ordinance about quote ‘Add the Words,’ because, principally, every voice matters, every person matters, every life matters,” Kling said.
The state Legislature has no plans for an Add the Words hearing this session, though on Wednesday, about 50 people gathered at the statehouse to call for one.
In the absence of statewide legislation, about a dozen Idaho cities, including Boise and Meridian, have passed an ordinance banning discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
Kling said discrimination and hate have no place in Nampa and she has made efforts to support LGBT members of the community. But she said the issue of LGBT discrimination has only been raised twice in the last year she’s been in office.
“When you try to fix a problem where there isn’t one, it’s like, ‘Why are we going there?’” Kling said.
Nampa City Council in recent months has spent hours debating issues such as a implementing a no-smoking ordinance at Library Square or installing anti-panhandling signs — prompting some residents and officials to question the need for such efforts.
Kling said the council took on these issues because people identified them as a problem, but the same hasn’t been true for LGBT discrimination. Kling said she believes Nampa is welcoming to the LGBT community.
Melissa Sue Robinson, who ran for mayor against Kling in 2017, is one of the few people who have brought this up as an issue to her over the last year, Kling said.
Robinson said Nampa may not be as welcoming as Kling believes, as she has had several people tell her they have faced discrimination on the basis of their sexuality or gender identity in Nampa while trying to find housing or employment, and she is sure there are many others she doesn’t know about.
Chelsea Gaona-Lincoln, chairwoman of Add the Words Idaho, said at least a dozen people have contacted her organization in the last year to report discrimination in Nampa. About three years ago, Gaona-Lincoln and her wife were turned away from their dream wedding venue in Nampa because they were a same-sex couple, she said.
Gaona-Lincoln said elected officials will often claim LGBT discrimination isn’t a problem in their area because they don’t hear about it. But reporting discrimination as an LGBT person can be difficult, she said. Some don’t want to come out to officials because they don’t feel safe, and others just don’t know where to report incidents in regions that don’t offer discrimination protections, she said.
“It’s an ignorance by choice,” Gaona-Lincoln said.
In 2016, a gay man was brutally beaten near Lake Lowell in Nampa in what officials determined to be a hate crime. The victim, 49-year-old Steven Nelson, died of a heart attack in the hours after the attack.
Eva Lopez, a staff member at United Church of Christ in Nampa, said she knows of few resources available to the LGBT public in Nampa. The church is known for welcoming LGBT members.
Lopez said she and other church officials support Nampa adding the words, but she doesn’t believe the city is ready yet. In the meantime, she said the ministry’s staff are available to counsel members of the LGBT community and their families.
Nampa’s strong foundation of faith represents the majority of the city’s residents, Kling said, and is something she believes makes the community better because of its focus on family values.
“The breakdown of the (traditional) family has been one of the things that has caused the breakdown of our society and our nation,” Kling said.
Kling said she wants to protect the rights of all Nampa residents, including those with strong religious beliefs, which is where passing an Add the Words ordinance becomes challenging. She said the city will provide services to all residents no matter what, and if people have experienced discrimination based on their sexual orientation or gender identity, she would “love to hear about it.”
“If we would treat each other with respect and kindness and love, we wouldn’t need ordinances,” Kling said.
Robinson said she does not believe Kling is prejudiced, but thinks she is unaware of the problem. She said more people should tell the Nampa City Council about the discrimination they face, but even then she is not sure that will make a difference. Robinson said she previously had a conversation with Councilman Bruce Skaug on the subject, and he told her he would not support an Add the Words ordinance, which Skaug later confirmed to the Idaho Press.
If Nampa continues to resist an ordinance, Robinson said she is considering making an attempt to get Caldwell to Add the Words, which would then box Nampa between two cities with non-discrimination ordinances. Caldwell, Robinson believes, is more likely to pass an Add the Words ordinance because she believes Caldwell’s mayor is “more progressive” and the college community would support the effort.
Gaona-Lincoln said she also believes Caldwell is more likely to pass an Add the Words ordinance for the same reasons, whereas Nampa is “not ready for this conversation.” She said Nampa is not even on her list of areas in Idaho that would be willing to discuss the matter, based on attitudes and priorities her organization has observed from City Council members and the mayor.