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Idaho Democrats bring back Queer Caucus in response to anti-LGBTQ+ legislation

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Idaho Democrats bring back Queer Caucus in response to anti-LGBTQ+ legislation

Jun 22, 2024 | 4:21 pm ET
By Mia Maldonado
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Idaho Democrats bring back Queer Caucus in response to anti-LGBTQ legislation
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Nikson Mathews (left) and Lily Pannkuk (right) give a presentation on the newly rebranded Queer Caucus of the Idaho Democratic Party at the party's state convention in Moscow. (Mia Maldonado/Idaho Capital Sun)

After years of anti-LGBTQ+ bills making their way through the Idaho Legislature, the Idaho Democratic Party launched its state convention with a presentation from its newly rebranded Queer Caucus, which aims to advocate for policies that protect marginalized Idahoans. 

The Queer Caucus is a constituency group of Idaho Democrats dedicated to advocating for LGBTQ+ rights and representation. It first began in 2012, but went under a hiatus until this year, caucus chair Nikson Mathews said in a presentation to convention attendees on Saturday at the University of Idaho. 

“Why bring it back now?” Mathews said. “There’s just been a terrible increase of bills that are targeting our community. Our mission is to ensure that the issues of the LGBTQ+ community are vocalized and prioritized within our party and state.”

Some of the bills targeting the LGBTQ+ community that were signed into law this year include: 

  • House Bill 668: This bill bans public funds from paying for gender-affirming medications and surgeries. This means transgender and nonbinary people enrolled in the state insurance plan or Idaho Medicaid can no longer receive gender-affirming care.
  • House Bill 421: This bill redefines the legal definitions of “sex” and “gender,” making the two synonymous. It also provides legal definitions for the words “mother,” “father,” “male” and “female.” 
  • House Bill 538: This bill provides protections for public employees, including teachers, who are unwilling to use someone’s preferred name and pronouns.
  • House Bill 710: This bill codifies procedures for Idaho libraries to follow when patrons believe a library material is harmful to minors. The bill includes “any act of homosexuality” under its definition of “sexual conduct.”  

Lily Pannkuk, the vice-chair of the Queer Caucus and executive director of the Ada County Democrats, said other legislation passed that indirectly affects Idaho’s LGBTQ+ community includes Senate Bill 1352, which lets counselors and therapists opt out of providing care if care goes against their religious or moral beliefs and Senate Bill 1329, which requires medical providers get parental consent before giving treatment to minors under 18.

“We need our cisgender heterosexual allies to get up and work on our behalf because there just aren’t enough of us to fight for ourselves,” Pannkuk said.

With those bills taking effect on July 1, advocating for protections for marginalized groups, including Idaho’s LGBTQ+ community, is a key part of the Idaho Democratic Party’s platform.

Idaho Democrats bring back Queer Caucus in response to anti-LGBTQ legislation
Idaho Democratic Party Chairwoman Lauren Necochea gives opening remarks at the state convention on June 22, 2024, at the University of Idaho in Moscow. (Mia Maldonado/Idaho Capital Sun)

The Idaho Democratic Queer Caucus is a rebrand of former caucus

Mathews said the caucus is a rebrand of the former LGBTQ+ Caucus, which was first formed in 2012 by Chelsea Gaona-Lincoln, the current national committeewoman for the Idaho Democratic Party; and her wife Evangeline Beechler, the former chair of the Idaho Democratic Party. 

Gaona-Lincoln said the two formed the caucus as bills banning transgender people from using their bathrooms of choice began spreading across the country. The two traveled across Idaho to provide advocacy training for allies who wanted to support LGBTQ+ people. The two, now married with children, fell in love in the process. 

“We just started taking up space and giving queer and trans people a voice within the party, and just offered as many trainings as possible,” Gaona-Lincoln told the Sun. 

But in 2015, after the first and only legislative hearing on Add the Words — a movement advocating for the inclusion of “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” in the state’s human rights act — Gaona-Lincoln said the morale within the LGBTQ+ community dropped, leading to a decline in caucus volunteers.

“The depth of grieving that was felt in the queer and trans community was just so enormous, that there was such a drop in volunteers,” she said. 

But with the annual legislation impacting Idaho’s LGBTQ+ community, Mathews and Pannkuk saw the need to bring the caucus back, renaming it the “Queer Caucus” to be more inclusive. 

“Nikson and Lily have amazing energy and they’ve got new ideas, and so it’s time that it was time to pass on,” Gaona-Lincoln said.

Idaho GOP platform changes include opposition to workforce training funding, embryo destruction

The Idaho Democratic Party Convention is held every two years, and its purpose is to elect delegates to attend the Democratic National Convention in Chicago in August, and to craft the party platform. 

The Idaho Democratic Party’s draft platform addresses several issues, such as funding for public education, expanding protections for marginalized groups, supporting reproductive rights – including access to abortion, contraception, and in vitro fertilization – combating extremism, protecting natural resources, and promoting investments in renewable energy.

Party spokesperson Avery Roberts told the Sun that there were more than 200 people in attendance on Saturday. 

The Idaho Republican Convention was held last week at the Coeur d’Alene Resort. Idaho reporters were not allowed to attend most of the events. Idaho reporters are allowed to attend all events during the Idaho Democratic Convention.