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Idaho's Gay State Representative Stands His Ground

Courtesy John McCrostie

Rep. John McCrostie is one of The Advocate's 2019 Champions of Pride. A Democrat who was first elected to the Idaho House of Representatives in 2014, Crostie is the first out gay man and second LGBTQ person to serve in the state’s legislature — following lesbian Nicole LeFavour, who served in the House from 2004 to 2008 and the Senate from 2008 to 2012.

McCrostie, who is 49, Christian, and mixed-race, was born in Okinawa, Japan, and adopted by American parents stationed there. As he told Boise Weekly, “All I really know is that I had a Caucasian parent and a Japanese parent.”

“When I decided to run for office, I knew that I would be breaking new ground as an openly gay man of color,” McCrostie tells The Advocate.  “But for me, the most important thing was not breaking new ground; rather, it was ensuring that I would never have to hide my relationship with my husband. But as the first openly gay man in the Idaho legislature, that significance has never been lost on me. I know that Idaho’s LGBTQ community appreciates that even if they live outside my legislative district, their voice is still represented in the Idaho legislature.”

During the session that ended this spring, McCrostie introduced a bill banning conversion therapy despite knowing it had little or no chance of passing. But, he says, it’s not always the legislation that passes that has the most impact. “It’s like they say at the Victory Fund and Institute: If you aren’t at the table, you’re on the menu. And my presence at the table has kept a lot of bad legislation off the menu because of the respect I have earned as an Idaho House member.”

He adds, “Sometimes for us, the win is in not losing ground. This year, we kept our updated gender marker birth certificate rule intact.” That change, made last year in response to a U.S. District Court ruling, allows trans people born in Idaho the opportunity to change their gender marker on their birth certificates for the first time. (Idaho was one of the final four states where that wasn’t already possible). The way the rule is written allows transgender people to apply for the change without the need to provide proof of surgery. “It took some sacrifices,” McCrostie admits, and it looked like the deal to keep the gender marker rule might fall apart at the last minute, “but it is a silent, uncelebrated win.”

In 2015, LeFavour led public protests in the “add the words” effort to get the terms “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” added to the state’s Human Rights Act. It failed. Because of that, McCrostie says, “In Idaho, it is easier to be openly LGBTQ if you live in a city that has an affirming nondiscrimination ordinance. If you don’t live in one of those cities, it is markedly more difficult to live openly as your authentic self.”

“It was difficult for me to grow up gay in Idaho and not know who to talk to about [being gay],” he says. “Had I had access to resources as a youth, I think my coming-out would have been easier. Coming out as a young adult, I know I was fortunate to connect with a good group of friends to make sure that I was safe and accepted.” That support, he says, was essential to him remaining “true to who I know I am” and becoming “a proud gay man.”

“At the end of the day, it is still tough to be LGBTQ in Idaho,” McCrostie acknowledges. “But it keeps getting better. … Urban young people definitely have stronger support networks than what I had as a rural youth. Rural kids still don’t have the same access to support as the city kids have. It’s still a challenge to be an LGBTQ youth in rural Idaho.”

McCrostie remains hopeful.

And he can’t help but offer a teaser for the future: “I’m excited about positive developments for next year’s legislative session. Stay tuned!” One can only hope it has something to do with Senate Bill 1015, which McCrostie has cosponsored, and which would finally add the words.

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