A fair Montana is one in which everyone has equal opportunity to employment, housing and public accommodations. Unfortunately, while state law prohibits discrimination in these areas on the basis of race, sex, religion and age, it does not protect on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. Gay, lesbian and transgender Montanans can be fired from a job, kicked out of housing and denied service at hotels and restaurants simply for who they are.
The ACLU of Montana and its partners have worked for years to extend these protections at a statewide level, but the Montana Legislature has resisted attempts to include sexual orientation and gender identity in the Montana Human Rights Act. So in 2010, the ACLU joined with the Montana Human Rights Network to create these protections at a city level beginning in Missoula, proceeding on to Helena, then Butte, Bozeman, and Whitefish. Billings, Montana's largest city, has failed to pass a NDO.
Missoula Nondiscrimination Ordinance
Our Fair is Fair work on the Missoula nondiscrimination ordinance included drafting the ordinance, providing additional information and comments to the Missoula City Council and assisting with public education.
The Missoula city council voted 10-2 in favor of the measure protecting people from housing and employment discrimination based on “actual or perceived … sexual orientation, gender identity or expression.” The meeting lasted nearly seven hours and drew testimony from both sides of the issue. One longtime city official said it drew the largest crowd of any council meeting in at least 30 years.
“Hopefully our actions tonight will ripple through Montana from Libby to Billings, from Dillon to Wolf Point, and eventually to the capital in Helena,” said Councilman Dave Strohmaier, who also sponsored the ordinance.
We were overjoyed when the ordinance passed in the spring of 2010. That ordinance later withstood an attack in the 2011 Montana Legislature.
Helena Nondiscrimination Ordinance
Fair is Fair in conjunction with other LGBT-advocacy groups, especially the Montana Human Rights Network, drafted a nondiscrimination ordinance in Helena that passed in December 2012. It was not an easy win for the LGBTQ community. There were many amendments to this ordinance and ended with a compromise that still provided basic protections but didn’t include public accommodations such as locker rooms. The unanimous decision to pass this was still a victory and a testament to the many people who showed up to testify, the hard work of the city council members and our dauntless allies.
“I believe, and I felt the commissioners believe, that being LGBT is part of the human condition,” said Commissioner Katherine Haque-Hausrath, the sponsor of the measure, speaking of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. “It’s something that people cannot change, and we believe that people should not be discriminated against because of their sexual orientations.”
Butte Nondiscrimination Ordinance
Butte became the third Montana city to pass a nondiscrimination ordinance in early 2014. The local Butte chapter of PFLAG (Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) and the Montana Human Rights Network worked to move the NDO through Butte. Press on the Butte NDO
Bozeman Nondiscrimination Ordinance
Bozeman Montana believes in Fairness! The Bozeman city council unanimously passed a fully inclusive nondiscrimination ordinance in June 2014. Deputy Mayor Carson Taylor drafted the NDO language to tightly define where discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity and gender expression is prohibited. Exemptions for religious institutions, nonprofits and fraternal organizations were included to protect the delicate balance of freedom of religion.
The Bozeman Nondiscrimination Ordinance was challenged with a lawsuit filed by local residents. The City of Bozeman aggressively fought this litigation. The judge in the case determined that the plaintiffs had no standing in this case.
Whitefish Nondiscrimination Ordinance
Whitefish, Montana has also passed a fully inclusive nondiscrimination ordinance. The Montana Human Rights Network and Love Lives Here were instrumental in passing that ordinance in 2016.
Billings Nondiscrimination Ordinance
As Montana’s largest city, Billings should lead the way for fairness in the Big Sky. Unfortunately, the Billings City Council failed to pass an ordinance protecting the LGBT community. By a vote of 6-5, Billings became the first city in Montana to deny protections to lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transgender individuals in housing, employment and access to public accommodations.
After eight months of testimony by hundreds of people and thousands of letters written to council, Mayor Tom Hanel made the statement that “Billings is just not ready” before casting the deciding vote to kill the ordinance. Voting for the ordinance was Brent Cromley, Becky Bird, Jani McCall, Al Swanson, and Ken Crouch. Voting against the NDO was Denis Pitman, Angela Cimmino, Rich McFadden, Shaun Brown and Mayor Tom Hanel.