- Associated Press - Saturday, June 18, 2016

BOISE, Idaho (AP) - Idaho has a troubled history when it comes to the relationship law enforcement officers have with the LGBTQ community, dating at least back to Boise’s 1955 gay sex scandal.

But today both Boise police and gay residents say the relationship has made a dramatic change for the better - a change that brought some comfort as residents celebrated Boise Pridefest and grieved over a mass shooting at a gay nightclub in Florida.

“A while back there was an article about how people in the community felt that they couldn’t turn to police or felt hesitant to come to police for reporting crimes,” said Boise police officer Dan Lister, the department’s recently appointed LGBTQ liaison officer.

“That always stuck with me - we want to be there to protect and serve,” he said.

Steve Martin, the regional development organizer for advocacy group Pride Foundation, said other Idaho cities like Pocatello seem to be actively trying to build relationships and trust with gay residents, and he’s optimistic that the rest of the state will eventually follow.

“I would like to see a day where the LGBTQ community is not afraid to contact law enforcement,” Martin said.

Still, there’s a lot of history to overcome. In what came to be known as the “Boys of Boise” case, police arrested three men for allegedly having sex with teenage boys around Halloween 1955. The arrests and subsequent anti-gay outcry spurred an ever-widening investigation.

By January 1957, roughly 1,500 people had been questioned and 16 men were charged.

Though some were accused of having sex with minors, others were charged for having sexual encounters with other adults. Just one man was acquitted and the others served sentences ranging from probation to nine years in prison.

There are plenty of other stories of mishandled cases, traumatic interactions with law enforcement officers or other problems, said former Sen. Nicole LeFavour. LeFavour became Idaho’s first openly gay lawmaker when she took office in 2008.

The FBI is investigating the April beating death of Steven Nelson to see if he was targeted because he was gay. If so, the case would be a hate crime.

Investigators say Nelson thought he was meeting a man he met online for a sexual encounter, but instead he was met by four assailants, robbed, stripped naked and badly beaten. He died at a hospital a few hours later.

The Canyon County sheriff’s office has since received several tips about others who may have been victimized in the same way.

Police in some areas still fail to consider hate crime as a possibility when LGBTQ residents are threatened, have property vandalized or are attacked leaving gay bars, LeFavour said.

Because the state doesn’t offer any protections to people based on sexual orientation or gender identity, people are often scared to report crimes.

“People don’t want it on record that they were the victim of an anti-gay crime because they’re going to lose their jobs, their apartment or whatever,” LeFavour said. “Otherwise really, it’s kind of a roulette.”

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