Montana Politics

City Commissioner Dan Ellison is Wrong on the Discrimination Ordinance

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While City Commissioner Dan Ellison would rather focus the news (and apparently City Commission meetings) on his pique about coverage in the Independent Record, he’s absolutely wrong on the issue that matters: passage of a non-discrimination ordinance in Helena. In his apparent opposition to the ordinance he managed to raise two tired canards often issued by opponents of equality: bald dudes and “special” rights:

But he questioned whether the city should extend protection against discrimination to what he called a small special-interest group.

Why we would limit it to that, and not extend it to many other behaviors and characteristics?” he asked.

Specifically, Ellison mentioned the bald, the left-handed, the obese, those who stutter, veterans and service members, single mothers and others who may have experienced some kind of discrimination in their lives.

Ellison’s arguments ignore both the reality for those who suffer discrimation and the need for an ordinance to protect them legally. GLBT people suffer a disproportionate amount of violence, are often discriminated against because of their sexual orientation or perception of their orientation. It is still a real and pervasive problem, as evidenced by the fact that 2011 saw the most anti-gay murders committed in over two decades, that gay and transgendered workers face incredibly high rates of workplace discrimination, and that national studies demonstrate discrimination against gay and transgendered renters.

Somehow, I doubt that Mr. Ellison can find evidence to suggest that left-handed Americans, outside of books written in the 1920s about school, face the same kind of discrimination.

As for Ellison’s contention that the law only protects “a small special interest group,” access to equality under the law does not demand a certain threshold of population to apply. That’s the crazy thing about rights in a country like ours: they are designed to protect minorities as much, if not more than majority groups.

Some critics of the law contend it’s unnecessary because since Missoula passed their ordinance, there have been no reports of discrimination to the city, but that ignores the symbolic function of an ordinance like this. Helena should be a community that embraces equality for all its citizens and visitors, and this ordinance will send a clear message that Helena is the tolerant, loving community it usually (outside of health education curriculum hearings) it shows itself to be.

About the author

Don Pogreba

Don Pogreba is a seventeen-year teacher of English, former debate coach, and loyal, if often sad, fan of the San Diego Padres and Portland Timbers. He spends far too many hours of his life working at school and on his small business, Big Sky Debate.

His work has appeared in Politico and Rewire.

In the past few years, travel has become a priority, whether it's a road trip to some little town in Montana or a museum of culture in Ísafjörður, Iceland.

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