Tribute Gifts: Montana Couples Celebrate Commitment by Giving Back

Doug Ingraham, chair of Pride Foundation’s Leadership Action Team in Montana, recently married his partner of 12 years, Schylar Canfield. They were married over the summer in Chicago, with a handful of friends in attendance.

While our region and country continue to make great strides toward the freedom to marry, loving and committed couples in Montana still face a ban on marriage equality. That means that Montana LGBTQ couples like Doug and Schylar must travel to another state in order to have their union legally recognized.

Several of my friends and colleagues have done just that—traveling outside of their home state to Washington, Iowa, or Illinois to get married; returning back to Montana to celebrate their commitment with close friends and family. Doug enjoyed his wedding, yet there was an element of somberness to the event; “Without marriage equality in Montana, it meant that my Mom and Dad and the rest of my family couldn’t be with us when we got married. The innate value of sharing our commitment in front of those that are important to us was not there for us, or our families.”

Reflecting on what it would mean to him to be able legally marry in Montana, Doug replied, “Marriage equality in Montana means that Schylar and I could have had our wedding here in Montana with friends and family—not just a reception.  But it also means so much more than that.  We have built a life, home, and a family together. Marriage equality would guarantee that we share equally in what we’ve both built. Finally, the simplicity of us being able to act and speak as spouses in medical situations has already meant a great deal.”

Given the current landscape in Montana, and the ongoing work that must be done before LGBTQ residents have true, lived equality, Doug and Schylar decided that in lieu of wedding gifts they would ask reception attendees to donate to Pride Foundation. This was a way to continue honoring their commitment to our community here in Montana, and to play a role in advancing full equality in the state they chose to live with their family.

“I love Pride Foundation’s model,” Doug said. “I especially like how the Montana Regional Development Organizer (RDO) works on the ground with local organizations, with support from a local Montana leadership team and backed by the knowledge and resources of Pride Foundation’s Board and Staff. It is the first group in Montana that isn’t struggling to be heard, but rather working to lift other groups further and higher.”

Similar to Doug and Schylar, Montana couple Susan Hawthorne and Adel Johnson also used their wedding reception as an opportunity to deepen their commitment to LGBTQ equality—encouraging donations to Pride Foundation instead of wedding gifts.

Sue and Adel
Susan Hawthorne and Adel Johnson

Sue is a veteran who served in the Army for 28 years before retiring just over a year ago. She met Adel Johnson 18 years ago at a golf fundraiser in Missoula. At the time, Sue was living in Helena and Adel was living in Butte. After two months of making the trip back and forth, the couple decided that they should move in together in Helena. It’s been one adventure after another ever since.

Sue and Adel got married in Spokane, Washington earlier this year. However, their dream was to get married in Montana. “As a fourth generation Montanan, Adel was sad that she couldn’t get married in the state that she knows and loves, and I felt like I was being treated like a second-class citizen,” Sue reflected. “I served my country and state for over 28 years in the Army, but still couldn’t marry the person I love.”

Sue and Adel are incredibly committed to each another and also understand the value of giving back to their community. That was their main motivation for encouraging donations to Pride Foundation at their reception. When I asked Sue about the decision, she stated “When you have been together for 18 years, you don’t need another toaster! We love the work Pride Foundation accomplishes not only in Montana, but across the Northwest. We think it is important to support the causes that support us.”

In addition to expressing their commitment to LGBTQ equality through donations, Sue and Adel are also playing an active role in challenging Montana’s marriage equality ban. The couple signed on to be one of the four plaintiffs in the current lawsuit in Montana challenging the ban, Rolando v State of Montana. Thanks to the courage of Sue and Adel, along with the three other plaintiff couples, the freedom to marry in Montana is closer than it’s ever been—with a decision expected within the next few weeks.

While we hope to see a positive marriage ruling by the end of the year, Montana LGBTQ couples and individuals still face a variety of barriers and challenges in their daily lives, including a lack of legal protections in the areas of employment, housing, and public accommodations.

That is why Pride Foundation is so immensely grateful to Doug and Schylar and Sue and Adel for thinking of us on their special day. Thanks to their support and the support of advocates like them across the state, Pride Foundation can continue to have a profound and robust impact on the lives and well-being of LGBTQ people both in Montana and throughout our region.

Tribute gifts to Pride Foundation are a unique way to honor a relationship or event, while giving back to our community and supporting full equality. If you are interested in exploring the option of tribute gifts for an upcoming wedding, anniversary, or birthday, please feel free to contact me, or our Interim Director of Development, Karen Mudd.

Kim Leighton is Pride Foundation’s regional development organizer in Montana. Email Kim.


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