Montana Human Rights Network is a leader in the statewide LGBTQ equality movement and a longtime grantee of Pride Foundation. After unsuccessfully lobbying the legislature for decades to include sexual orientation and gender identity in the state’s Human Rights Act, the group has changed tactics, partnering with the ACLU of Montana to pass local non-discrimination ordinances in cities around the state, thereby drumming up momentum for statewide change.
Currently, Helena’s LGBTQ people do not have any legal protections from discrimination in housing, employment and public accommodations, like doctors’ offices or hotel rooms. If people are unfairly fired from their job or denied housing because of their sexual orientation or gender identity, they have no legal recourse. The equality ordinance would provide Helena residents and visitors legal protections based on their sexual orientation or gender identity in the workplace, in buying or renting a home, or in public accommodations.
The Network led the Missoula effort to pass the first equality ordinance in spring 2010, and Helena is next. The Network received a $2,500 community grant from Pride Foundation in December, and another $6,000 in Advocacy Fund money earlier this year, with all funds supporting the ordinance campaign in Helena. Pride Foundation has also supported the passage of Sandpoint’s non-discrimination ordinance, the first town in the Idaho to take such a stand for equality.
When the Helena campaign kicked off last fall, more than 120 supporters attended the Network’s event. The local steering committee has worked to build community support, and so far 39 businesses have signed on in support. The Network has also been working to build pre-emptive support from the faith community, with 16 local leaders from seven congregations coming out publicly in support of the equality ordinance.
Reverends from both Covenant United Methodist Church of Helena and First Christian Church of Helena wrote of the important role the faith community can play in the movement for equality. They wrote in an op-ed that ran just before the Christmas holiday:
“We want Helena to be a welcoming and secure place for all our neighbors. We are willing to stand up and speak out because we know that all of creation is valued, honored, and beloved. We know that everyone should have access to the resources they need to thrive. We are looking forward to the community discussion that will take place in the coming months, and we are excited to take part in it. This is truly a time for open hearts, open minds, and open doors.”
Greer reports that new City Commissioner Katherine Haque-Hausrath requested that city staff time be spent working on the ordinance, joining with Mayor Jim Smith and Commissioner Dick Thweatt in this request, a big first step to bringing the non-discrimination ordinance to a vote in the next few months.
In the meantime, the Network will partner with leaders from St. Paul’s Methodist Church to screen the award-winning documentary,“For the Bible Tells Me So,” at 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Feb. 15. The documentary follows the lives of a cross-section of Christian, American families as they handle the realization of having a gay child or family member.
Pride Foundation encourages our friends and supporters to volunteer with the Network’s efforts by contacting Jamee Greer at email@example.com or by calling 406-442-5506 ext. 12.
To learn more about Pride Foundation’s grants, scholarships, sponsorships, or leadership development efforts in Montana, contact regional development organizer Caitlin Copple at Caitlin@pridefoundation.org or 406.546.7017.