Equality is a Montana Value

Helena Montana’s first fully-inclusive non-discrimination ordinance officially goes into effect today, February 8, 2017.

It has been a long road to get here.

Four years ago, when the community worked to get Helena’s first non-discrimination ordinance passed, an exclusion was adopted that specifically targeted transgender and gender diverse people. As written, the exclusion required transgender people to use the bathroom or locker room that aligns with an individual’s “anatomical sex” as opposed to their gender identity.

Ultimately, it was an inherently discriminatory exclusion within a non-discrimination ordinance.

We vowed to work to ensure that this setback was only temporary. We worked across our state—meeting with neighbors, supporters, and local leaders— to change hearts and minds. Finally, after several years of discussions, the city commissioners agreed to consider improving the existing ordinance.

The city commissioners held their meeting on an ordinary wintery Montana evening. We walked into the Helena City Commission chambers both anxious and hopeful. Alongside our community, I was eager to see a fully-inclusive, citywide non-discrimination ordinance adopted. Given our current political climate, I knew a more inclusive Helena Non-Discrimination Ordinance (NDO) would be welcome news for LGBTQ people in Montana and across the Northwest.

Honestly, the hearing was tough because those who spoke against our equality used old stereotypes that carry their historic sting. Like the many hearings our community has participated in for our rights, opponents of equality spread misinformation and vitriol. But we felt confident in the leadership of Commissioner Robert Farris-Olsen and the support of Commissioners Andres Haladay and Commissioner Ed Noonan, to get the exclusion removed. We knew that our community outreach and discussions had sparked hard conversations and that the culture here was shifting.

I’m proud and honored to work with an incredible network of organizations fighting for justice and equality across Montana. Because of the hard work of our community, Helena now has a fully inclusive non-discrimination ordinance—sending an extraordinary message that everyone is valued for their dignity and full humanity—that aligns with our Montana values.

Kim Leighton is Pride Foundation’s Regional Development Organizer in Montana. Email Kim.

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