Former Republican Gov. Phil Batt said Wednesday that Idaho’s “disdain” of gays has hurt his family — including his gay grandson — and pressed the Legislature to add civil rights protections for lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender people.
He also reiterated his view, contrary to that of GOP Gov. Butch Otter, that Idaho’s policies harm business growth. Otter has declined to weigh in on the issue, except to say it’s up to the Legislature. GOP lawmakers have refused to hold a hearing on an “Add the Words” bill.
Batt said his grandson Max Batt, formerly of Boise, “felt marginalized and troubled by some of the treatment he received from students and teachers,” dropped out of high school and later obtained his GED.
Max Batt then moved to California, where he earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees and is making good money in computer design. His sister, Anna, followed him there, where she earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees at the University of California, Berkeley. Anna Batt is now a doctoral candidate in biochemistry at USC. Max’s and Anna’s parents are Batt’s son, Bill, and Bill’s wife, Cathy Naugle.
“These young folks love Idaho and I wish they lived here so I could see them more,” Batt wrote in a guest opinion submitted Wednesday to the Idaho Statesman. “However, they will never make this their home again as long as we maintain our disdain for people who are different than most of us.”
The Statesman will publish Batt’s opinion in Thursday’s print edition.
Batt is the author of the 1969 Human Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, gender, color, religion, national origin and disability. In October he endorsed the “Add the Words” campaign, which would add “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” to the law’s protections in employment, housing, education and public accommodation.
“I would like to have somebody explain to me who is going to be harmed by adding the words to our civil rights statutes prohibiting discrimination in housing and job opportunities for homosexuals,” Batt writes. “O(h), I forgot, that might hurt the feelings of gay bashers.”
Batt also raised objections to the now-dead House Bill 427, which would have added legal protections to businesses and individuals that discriminate based on their religious beliefs.
“The Idaho Legislature has once again decided to take no action to include sexual orientation under our anti-discrimination statutes,” he wrote. “Instead, they seriously considered state approval of anti-gay incidents if they are done because of religious convictions.”
Batt noted that the arrests of Add the Words protesters at the Capitol and HB 427 “have attracted the attention of major news outlets in large cities and even that of London newspapers.”
He likened the current controversy to the damage neo-Nazis active in North Idaho the 1980s and 1990s did to Idaho’s reputation and economy. As a senator, Idaho Republican Party chairman and governor, Batt was a leader in countering white supremacists, including enacting a hate crime law and making Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday a state holiday.
He credited North Idaho civil rights leaders, Hewlett-Packard executives and other business leaders for helping “force these scumbags out.”
“Our Idaho executives told me that the State’s reputation is important to their businesses,” Batt wrote. “If it is damaged, sales are hurt. Perhaps more importantly, it becomes much more difficult to attract outstanding, well qualified and forward thinking people to apply for Idaho employment.”
“While I don’t want to quarrel with Gov. Otter, I do believe that we have an image problem and that we should work hard to dispel any national concern,” Batt said last week. “We do have to worry about our reputation.”