By JENNIFER K. BAUERIn February 2014, 44 protesters were arrested in the Idaho State Capitol for trespassing. They stood silently with their left hands over their mouths to bring attention to the fact the legislature has not added LGBT protections to the state Human Rights Act.
In February 2014, 44 protesters were arrested in the Idaho State Capitol for trespassing. They stood silently with their left hands over their mouths to bring attention to the fact the legislature has not added LGBT protections to the state Human Rights Act.
Idaho filmmakers Cammie Pavesic and Michael D. Gough were among those watching the news when 44 protesters were arrested for trespassing in the Idaho Capitol last February.
Click here to watch the “Add the Words” movie trailer.
Blocking the door to the state Senate chambers, the protesters stood silently with their left hands covering their mouths. They wore matching black T-shirts that said, “Add the 4 words Idaho.”
After eight years of asking nicely for a hearing to consider adding “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” to Idaho’s Human Rights Act, they turned to civil disobedience, “to prevent the suicides, beatings, loss of jobs, evictions and the fear that too many gay and transgender Idahoans live with every day,” protesters said in a news release. “We do this for those who live in fear and those who may despair this year if no one speaks for them.”
Pavesic, who comes from a fifth-generation Idaho family, says her first thought was, “I need to get involved.”
She called Gough and suggested they go to the Capitol and film interviews for a short film about the protest. One day turned into three months of intense filming. Pavesic fell behind on bills and her car was repossessed. Gough saw relationships with family and friends crumble over his decision to focus on the issue.
“I’m a white, straight guy, so I don’t have to deal with any discrimination at all in my life. Sometimes it’s hard to know how people will be treated unless you’re walking in their shoes. I knew it would be interesting and I knew it would be a story but I didn’t know how deeply personal it would become to me,” Gough says.
The Turning Point
The pair are test screening their feature-length documentary “Add the Words” in Lewiston Saturday and Sunday. The film begins with the formation of the Add the Words movement and tells stories of individuals directly affected by discrimination. Both filmmakers recall moments when they realized the film was bigger than they imagined.
For Pavesic, 44, a movie and TV actor and the producing director of three theater companies, it came early on. They filmed a hearing for a bill that would allow people with sincerely held religious beliefs to discriminate against gays and transgenders. Even though 300 people testified against it and only two testified for it, the bill went through to the committee. “It just caused a firestorm,” she says. (The bill was later withdrawn.) A couple of days later, Add the Words protesters held a rally in the Statehouse drawing hundreds of people in support.
“The lawmakers were in the chambers and went up the back steps to get to the cattlemen’s association luncheon. I think at that point we realized what a battle it was for these people to be acknowledged,” she says.
For Gough, 31, an award-winning director who runs his own film company, MDG Films in Boise, the moment came later, after visiting Utah to interview Julie Zicha, whose 19-year-old son Ryan committed suicide in Pocatello after enduring years of harassment, abuse and discrimination for being gay, she said.
“It was emotional. It really changed my perspective on the whole thing,” Gough says.
Back in Boise, close family and friends began questioning his involvement in the project. One person in particular verbally attacked him, called him an idiot and threatened to disown him.
“It was the first time I realized I would be losing personal relationships because I was doing this. … I was not going to lose relationships unless it was going to be for a reason. That’s really how my passion for it went to the next level.” Gough says.
No Happy Ending
“Add the Words” has screened to test audiences in Boise and Pocatello. The film does not pretend to present both sides of the issue, says Pavesic, who recently relocated to Coeur d’Alene with her husband.
“Honestly, there’s never two sides to social justice and humanitarian issues. There’s the right side and then the fear-based side,” she says.
About 700 people attended the Boise screening, including some Democratic legislators. At the end it received a five-minute standing ovation from the audience.
“It really hit home that night,” Gough says. “I realized we had made something that was changing not just people’s minds and perception but also giving hope to people, particularly young people. Even thinking about it gets me kind of emotional.”
About 100 people attended the screening in Pocatello. Gough says they found it very difficult to get press coverage of the event there. One media outlet would not allow any mention of suicide.
Pavesic says some have criticized the film because there’s not a lot of hope in it; the protesters did not win.
“This is now year nine and they can’t even get a hearing. It’s a dark subject and kids are dying because of it,” she says. “We’re a cowboy state and we have a culture of bullying, we have a culture of carrying guns. I think we really need to, as a state, look at our citizens as equal and part of the community and change some of that.”
The film is entered in several film festivals and the pair hope to show it in other cities and states.
Gough says making the film has made him a better person.
“I was prejudiced and I didn’t even know it. I was comfortable with gay people but I didn’t know much about transgender. I had a friend who told me, before I started making the film, that she was going to transition from lesbian to male. It really weirded me out. I didn’t know how to deal with it, honestly. The film was an opportunity for me to fully understand my own feelings and see if I could overcome some of my fears. I invited my friend to the movie in Boise and for the first time I was like, it’s just a regular person like anybody else.”
Pavesic says she wanted to make the film to ensure that the protesters’ story was told, but also to show that the people involved, “are not ‘them,’ they’re ‘us.’ They’re friends and families and neighbors. They grew up in Idaho and they’re part of the community. So many people say, ‘Why don’t you leave?’ Well, that is not an option.”
IF YOU GO
What: “Add the Words” film
When: 7 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 6 and 3 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 7
Where: Lewis-Clark State College Center for Arts & History, 415 Main St., Lewiston
Cost: Free, donations will be accepted