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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, April 25 2014 - Volume 42 Issue 17
Bozeman, Montana city commission to vote on LGBT anti-discrimination ordinance
Section One
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Bozeman, Montana city commission to vote on LGBT anti-discrimination ordinance

by Victor Bogatko - SGN Contributing Writer

The arrival of spring brings with it much welcome signs of renewal and hope. This year, in addition to the wonderful array of flowers that grace every city block, the LGBT community has been showered with pro-Gay marriage rulings and protective laws around the country that are becoming as common as cherry blossoms. It seems on a weekly basis, like different plants taking turns to bloom, state laws banning Gay marriage are stuck down or a new city ordinance is passed in a remote part of the country.

One such remote revival is occurring in the heart of Montana's Big Sky Country, where activists have gathered enough support to put the issue in front of the city commission. In a small town of less than 40 thousand people, Bozeman is about to become the state's fourth city with laws protecting the LGBT community. On Wednesday, the city of Bozeman released a draft of the proposed ordinance that would ban discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. The town's deputy mayor wrote the ordinance based on similar laws now in effect in Montana's capitol Helena, and two other progressive cities, Missoula and Butte.

As in many cities, the proposed ordinance will include exemptions for religious schools, organizations, and institutions. Private businesses will be required to follow the ordinance. However, according to Deputy Mayor Carson Taylor, a loophole could be added that might make it easier for some businesses to get away with discrimination. The city commission scheduled to convene on Monday night at City Hall could add wording that would allow 'creative businesses' such as photographers, to be able to deny taking pictures of Gay couples' weddings if it was against their religious beliefs.

James Greer of the Montana Human Rights Network has been pushing for the ordinance and says it is a step in the right direction. However he expressed concern over the religious organizations exemption. 'This is about simple fairness, and amendments like this have the potential to erode civil rights law, and not just for LGBT people, but even more broadly,' he explained.

Since 2010, organizations and activists have been working diligently to pass an inclusive Montana Human Rights Act for the LGBT community. Since all of these efforts have been unsuccessful thus far, activists have taken a different approach and it seems to be working. Instead of dragging the entire state kicking and screaming, these groups have targeted local city governments.

The first such city to pass an anti-discrimination ordinance was Missoula, in April of 2010. Helena followed next by passing its ordinance unanimously; but to the dismay of activists, included an amendment requiring Transgender people use their birth-assigned restrooms instead of the restroom of their choice. Monday night's commission in Bozeman will also discuss how public accommodations will be handled, but this time it appears fully inclusive protections may prevail. The drafted ordinance would not allow businesses to prevent Transgender individuals from using the bathrooms or locker rooms they are more comfortable with - a small but encouraging victory for Montana's LGBT residents.

Still, the ordinance is polarizing the community. Gerry Geote, an administrator at the Heritage Christian School expressed his opposition to the ordinance. 'From a Christian school perspective, I have concerns with it that deal with the accommodations and hiring practices,' he said. 'I think the city commission needs to consider something that won't have lawsuits.'

According to Rabbi Ed Stafman, however, a majority of Bozeman residents seem to be in favor of the ordinance. 'Only a few motivated by hatred and bigotry seem to be opposed.'

Rabbi Stafman is one of more than 30 local religious leaders who support a non-discrimination ordinance in Bozeman. He says he believes 'people who are different deserve to be treated with dignity and respect and not oppressed in any way.'

A second meeting on the Bozeman anti-discrimination ordinance will be held on May 12th. Public comments will be heard at this time and a vote will take place.

Montana is now only one of three states where a Gay marriage ban is not being challenged. If this spring has been any indication of the future of such a ban, it's fair to say that its time is coming to an end and very soon. There is even talk of another non-discrimination ordinance in the works, in nearby Billings, Montana.

Though a lot of work remains to be done for LGBT folks under Montana's Big Sky, it is safe to say that spring has finally arrived, and that this year, the cherry blossoms will be especially fragrant.

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