'Add the Words' supporters peacefully demonstrate at town hall meeting

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More than 20 demonstrators stood with their hands over their mouths during the Kootenai County state legislators' town hall meeting Saturday, symbolizing that they feel their voices are not being heard.

"By holding our hands over our mouths, we're representing that we're being denied a voice in the Human Rights Act and that the words 'sexual orientation' and 'gender identity' are not included," said Lauren Merlino, 20, who serves as the president of North Idaho College's Gender and Sexuality Alliance.

The demonstrators silently stood in the rear of the room during the two-hour meeting, with a few coming and going and the number increasing to 25 at one point. They attended in response to the events in Boise regarding House Bill 2, known as the "Add the Words" bill, that the House State Affairs Committee voted to kill Thursday.

"I do think that our presence was very much noticed," said Merlino, of Coeur d'Alene. "By being there, we forced them to notice us and be respectful because we are human beings too."

She said she sensed a lot of tension and many people who clearly didn't approve of their presence, but she said she also felt several people didn't mind they were there and even sympathized with their purpose.

"I think for many of the LGBT community, it hurts now, but we have come such a long way in just the last couple months," she said. "I know we'll be getting our rights, one way or another."

"The bottom line is, we hold religious conscience very high. We hold personal liberty very high. When we say, 'We don't care what you do in your bedroom,' we don't care what you do in your bedroom," said Rep. Vito Barbieri. "And America's culture did not survive this long without personal freedom, individual sovereignty, state sovereignty. I'm saying all that because as I said in my remarks to the committee, it was heartrending, it was sad that there are individuals out there that will degrade, punch, physically hurt someone because they look different, because they act different. We're talking about minority on both sides. We're talking about minority criminals that do not care how they hurt people. We're talking about minority activists that will use this change as a sword and sue people that refuse to comply."

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