Guest Blogger

Montana's Largest City Moves Closer to LGBT Ordinance

Filed By Guest Blogger | June 15, 2014 4:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Politics
Tags: ACLU, action alert, Billings, Montana, nondiscrimination ordinance

Editor's Note: Guest blogger Liz Welch is the LGBT Advocacy Coordinator for the ACLU of Montana's Fair is Fair campaign, advancing the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people across the state and educating Montanans about the need for domestic partnerships for same-sex couples.

Welcome to MontanaTwenty years ago, Billings, Montana (population 100,000) became a shining example of community courage when the entire city stood up and said "not in our town" to white supremacists who had been targeting residents based on their race, ethnicity, and religion. Last Monday night, the majority of the city council acted in this same spirit by directing staff to draft a non-discrimination ordinance for consideration. The vote wasn't easy -- it took nine hours and more than 150 people testified -- but it's the first step in making sure Billings lives up to its historic legacy of standing up for all people.

Not in Our Town Billings was born as white supremacist activity reached its height, and two decades later, leaders of the group stood with the LGBT community for that epic nine-hour council hearing. During last week's meeting, two elected leaders -- Mayor Tom Hanel and Councilwoman Angela Cimmino -- changed their previous votes to table an inclusive non-discrimination ordinance and instead voted to consider draft language protecting LGBT people from being fired or denied housing or public accommodation because of who they are or whom they love.

Not In Our Town became an national movement to stop hate, intolerance, and bullying and create safe communities across the world after a 1988 documentary drew attention to the Billings experience. This year the organization celebrates its 20th anniversary by returning to Billings for the Not In Our Town National Leadership Gathering, bringing local leaders from around the country together for three amazing days of ideas, storytelling, multimedia, and action planning--all focused on building safe, inclusive communities for everyone.

The gathering comes as Montana's largest city continues to struggle over whether or not to pass a nondiscrimination ordinance. There's been pushback from a small, vocal minority led by the Montana Family Foundation, who partners with anti-gay groups such as Focus on the Family, Family Research Council, and Alliance Defending Freedom. Four other Montana cities already have similar ordinances in place.

Last week's epic council meeting has already been labeled "The Longest Night" in Billings because the nine hours of testimony and discussion continued through the night and finally ended at 5:30 a.m. Hundreds of supporters rallied at the church across the street and then lined up alongside opponents in a crowded city hall in order to have their voices heard. Local organizations including Not In Our Town, Montana Gender Alliance and TAP 365 along with their allies at the ACLU of Montana, Montana Human Rights Network, Human Rights Campaign, Forward Montana, and Pride Foundation helped coordinate with and support the more than 300 people who showed up.

billings-montana-rally.jpg"History will show that we did the right thing with this important issue that ensures equality and civil rights for all individuals in our city, including the LGBT community," said non-discrimination ordinance co-sponsor and city councilwoman Jani McCall.

"This is a defining moment for each of us individually, collectively as the Billings City Council, and as a city. All people in Billings should be treated equally and fairly and protected under the law from discrimination in employment, housing, and public services."

The council will finally be presented with the full language of the ordinance at a work session tomorrow (Monday, June 16th), and another public hearing on whether to adopt the ordinance is expected in mid-July.

If you live, work, or travel to Billings, consider emailing the council to encourage them to keep the promise of "Not In Our Town" and pass this important ordinance to protect all the citizens of Billings and those who choose to visit "Montana's Trailhead."

In the photo below the jump, more than 300 people gathered at First Congregational Church in Billings at a rally in support of an LGBT-inclusive non-discrimination ordinance.

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