Mark Peters

Mark Peters

BOISE — The director of Idaho National Laboratory worries some bills the Legislature is discussing are hurting Idaho’s reputation by making the state look intolerant.

In a letter to House Speaker Scott Bedke, Senate President Pro Tempore Brent Hill, and Senate and House minority leaders Michelle Stennett and Ilana Rubel, Lab Director Mark Peters wrote that since moving to Idaho, he has found “a nearly universal kindness, generosity and fairness” and that people “treat all individuals with respect and value their coworkers and neighbors for their contributions.”

“Increasingly, however, I’m hearing concerns within INL and throughout our community about the substance and tone of discussions taking place this legislative session, and how those negatively impact the way in which Idaho is perceived outside our borders,” Peters wrote. “Frankly, I share those concerns.

As an institution, INL places great value on inclusion and diversity. To serve the American taxpayers by resolving our nation’s energy and security challenges, we need everyone at the table and for them to know they are valued, appreciated, and free to be their authentic selves.

“Inclusion and diversity are important to me personally, and I’m proud of the progress we’ve made at the Laboratory and within our workforce,” Peters continued. “As a state, I believe strongly that our leaders must strive to move forward and resist attempts to march us backwards.”

Peters wrote he and INL “stand ready to assist any effort to encourage a more inclusive dialogue coming out of the Capitol, to help the Legislature better understand the importance of inclusion and diversity, and to protect our most vulnerable citizens and communities.”

Peters did not call out any particular legislation in his letter. However, some of the most high-profile bills of this year’s session have been ones that have run into fierce opposition from advocates for the transgender community. Chris Mosier, a transgender man triathlete and advocate for transgender people in sports, was in Boise Tuesday to lobby against a bill, sponsored by Rep. Barbara Ehardt, R-Idaho Falls, to ban transgender women and girls from competing on female high school and college sports teams

Two of these bills have passed the House and are still working their way through the legislative process — the transgender athletics one and one to block transgender people from changing their birth certificates to match their gender identity. A third, which would have criminalized gender reassignment surgery or medication for minors, is dead for the year since House Judiciary Committee Chairman Rep. Greg Chaney, R-Caldwell, decided after the public hearing not to schedule a vote on it.

This isn’t Peters’ first time wading into a similar legislative debate. Last summer, when Republican lawmakers were criticizing diversity-related programs at Boise State University, Peters and INL Chief Operating Officer Juan Alvarez put out statements supporting diversity, saying it is important for recruitment.

Ehardt said in a statement Tuesday that misinformation is being spread about her bill and her goal is to preserve opportunities for girls and women.

“We need leaders in business, politics, and athletics that promote women and create opportunities for us in sports,” she said. “It is disheartening to think that some athletes, under the guise of equality, do not support girls and women as they pursue their dreams to stand atop the podium as a champion because a biological male had taken her spot.

“Little girls need to know that they can grow up, compete and be successful in sports, just like little boys,” Ehardt continued. “They have dreams and it is our responsibility to do all that we can to help them pursue and achieve these dreams by maintaining a fair playing field.”

Reporter Nathan Brown can be reached at 208-542-6757. Follow him on Twitter: @NateBrownNews.