Earlier this month, Not In Our Town Billings held a town hall gathering to facilitate a discussion on discrimination, prejudice, and hate. Not In Our Town Billings is a local affiliate of the national group, Not In Our Town, with the vision of an informed community—free of hatred, intolerant of intolerance, where justice thrives.
The town hall was an opportunity for community members to come to a safe and open space, where they could share their stories and participate in an informed discussion. Eran Thompson, the Chair of Not In Our Town Billings, moderated the town hall gathering, and the event was co-facilitated by the Fair is Fair project, which is administered through the ACLU of Montana.
Liz Welch, the LGBT Advocacy Coordinator at the ACLU of Montana, spoke about the local non-discrimination ordinance (NDO) campaign in Billings, and discussed how individuals in the room and in the community would be positively impacted by the policy. The ACLU of Montana and the Fair is Fair project have been working for many months to build momentum to pass an NDO in Billings. Many individuals who shared their stories at the town hall spoke of the discrimination and prejudice that they had faced due to being a member of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer (LGBTQ) community.
I participated in the event as well—sharing my own story of mistreatment, and highlighting the importance of local legislation that would provide protections for individuals like myself, who travel throughout the state. I cannot stress enough how important it is that there are legal protections in all communities in Montana, so that myself and others have the same security and safety in Billings that we in Helena, Missoula, or Butte, where non-discrimination ordinances have already passed.
The event was very successful and brought in over 80 attendees, including two City Council members. The Billings non-discrimination ordinance hearing is not yet scheduled, but is expected to happen in July.
While we continue to see progress towards legal equality for LGBTQ individuals at the local level—with Bozeman, Montana voting unanimously to pass an inclusive non-discrimination ordinance earlier this week, with a final vote in early June—we still have an uphill battle in Billings.
Earlier this week Billings City Councilmember Shawn Brown introduced an initiative during a work session that would table the non-discrimination ordinance in Billings. The motion ultimately did not pass, but the vote was 5-5, indicating that there is still much work to be done to educate Billings City Council members. Email Billings City Council now to express your support for passing a fully inclusive non-discrimination ordinance!
Now, more than ever, we need your support. Email me to get involved in our work in Billings. I look forward to partnering with you to advance legal protections for all LGBTQ residents in Montana.
Kim Leighton is Pride Foundation’s regional development organizer in Montana. Email Kim.