The city of Helena passed an LGBT-inclusive nondiscrimination ordinance on Dec.17, protecting lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in housing employment and public accommodations. All people have a right to be treated with dignity and respect when they are looking for housing, jobs or to simply dine and shop.
The ordinance was passed unanimously. That's the good news. The bad news is that an amendment to bar “pre-op” transgender people from locker rooms was also passed. In such instances, transgender people can still be forced to use the locker room of the sex matching their “anatomical” gender.
We opposed this amendment for a number of reasons:
- It seeks to solve a problem that doesn’t exist. There is no evidence that ensuring transgender people can use locker rooms conforming to their gender identity results in increased acts of voyeurism or violence.
- Prohibiting people from using facilities designated for the gender they identify with causes severe psychological harm – the same kind of harm that opponents of the ordinance and proponents of this amendment would feel if they were forced to use the locker room of the opposite sex.
- The discomfort of others is not a reason to deny people their civil rights. We wouldn’t tell a breast cancer survivor she can’t use the women’s locker room because of her mastectomy scars. Part of being a compassionate human being is respecting the rights of others even when it makes us uncomfortable.
- This amendment doesn’t take into account people who don’t conform to traditional gender characteristics, including people who are intersex (born with both male and female genitalia) or those who have been injured – take a soldier wounded by an IED in Iraq.
That said, the nondiscrimination ordinance will go far to help people get the dignity and respect we all want and need and to have the security they need to support their families
Hundreds of people showed up at Helena City Commission meetings on Dec. 3 and 17 to comment on the ordinance.
It was inspiring to hear people like Bobbie Zenker (pictured here at the Dec. 3 meeting) talk about how their lives have been impacted by discrimination, but that they still believe the bulk of the public supports their right to be treated equally. We agree. Most people in Helena, and in Montana, support fairness. They want everyone to be treated with dignity and respect, to be able to hold jobs, to have roofs over their heads and to be able to shop and do businesss.