The Billings City Council is meeting tonight to discuss “updating” wording and definitions in their Non-Discrimination Ordinance (NDO), and the revisions suggested are somewhat laughable, but mostly reprehensible.
Here are two of the proposed definitions:
Heterosexuality: sexually attracted to people of the opposite sex
Homosexuality: erotic activity with another of the same sex
While the difference in definitions might seem slight, and perhaps somewhat funny to those paying close attention (that gay relationships are more “erotic” than straight), let’s get something clear: homosexual relationships are built on a whole lot more than erotic encounters. Pretty much just like straight folk.
When Helena was working on their own NDO in 2012, I was diagnosed with bladder cancer. My partner and I had been together for nearly a decade, and I went to the city council meetings while I was in pain from biopsies, anguished over my cancer diagnosis, steeped in chemo drugs, and losing my hair. Just about the time that my partner and I really needed the protections that weren’t (and aren’t) offered to us through the state or either of our employers (marriage or health insurance), it was imperative that we be involved with the city’s plans to draft an NDO for Helena. Pain or not.
In the meantime, my organs were scooped out, my body was marred, and chemo left me unable to think, work, or drive. I couldn’t take myself to the bathroom or feed myself. My partner and I, we couldn’t have an “erotic” relationship with one another if we wanted. In the darkest hour of our lives, what our partnership became was one that would have to endure despite our intimate relationship. She had to be there for me as a husband does a wife, as a wife does a husband, and as partners do for one another.
The cancer story is an important part of this discussion about wording because our relationship is:
1) built on trust, collaboration, honesty, responsibility, and accountability.
More often than not we are partners in a business, and the business is the way in which we live. Who will pick up the dog poop? Where do we take a weekend trip? Should we travel to see family? When all that falls into place just right, and when we are feeling a moment of carefree intimacy, hell, we might make time for an “erotic” relationship.
And our sexual relationship is:
2) no one’s business but ours.
If you’re heterosexual, you might be offended by the definitions, too. Heterosexual relationships are defined as “sexual attraction to the opposite sex”- meaning “attractiveness on the basis of sexual desire”, while homosexual relationships as “erotic activity between people of the same sex”- meaning they “tend to arouse sexual desire or excitement”. This according to the Internet Machine.
So let me get this straight: homosexual relationships are arousing and exciting? Heterosexual relationships are a product of sexual desire? Perhaps yes on both accounts.
While the distinction between the two (or semantics, as some might point out) may seem like a compliment or laughable to some, the definition for homosexuals pegs our relationships as solely based on sex for the pleasure of another. The writing reveals more about the person who crafted the definitions it than the definition itself.
Listen, I’m thrilled to hear that Billings is going through the difficult process of writing such an ordinance, and the greater portion of the document is crafted with the best intentions. But even minor keystrokes or errors in words can cause misrepresentation. For instance, the writer also points out that heterosexuals are sexually attracted to “people” of the same sex, but that homosexuals are involved with “another“ of the same sex. Aren’t we all people here? Also, are straight people only “attracted” to other people, while homosexuals are strictly involved in erotic activity with others?
In addition to the distinctions between hetero and homosexuals, the Billings city council are proposing to use the word “transvestite” in lieu of “transgender.” “Transvestite”? What is this, The Rocky Horror Picture Show?
While the Billings City Council is out attempting to define and label groups of people, perhaps they should pick up a dictionary and use appropriate definitions like they did when they defined Bi-sexuality (page 32 of tonight’s agenda).
A bit of advice for civic leaders who draft these kinds of documents: if you don’t know the correct language to use, ask the people for whom you are crafting the document. Be willing to say “I don’t know” and have several someones share with you what’s accurate.
This is a problem, folks. Not just for us Montanans or Billings residents. Most of you don’t live in Billings and can’t attend tonight’s hearings which begin at 5:30 p.m., but you know what? You can send them your well-worded email.
The email address for the entire City Council is: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Please consider sending a message to talk about why this is concerning. It’s really important that a policy moving forward value EVERYONE, and we all know words and language matter. ?#?BillingsNDO?
And it’s really important that we hear from our allies.