House Bill 516’s Bigotry Must Be Rejected

One of the elements of Western movies that always puzzled me was the frequent assertion that no one in the West cared where a person had come from; all that mattered was the person they were in their new community. Growing up in relatively small towns like Shelby and Laurel, it seemed that the exact opposite was true. When someone new came to town, we wanted to know everything about him or her and we pried like hell to find out whatever we could. But the other half of the story was true: once that person arrived, all we cared about was that the new person did her job, treated her neighbors well, and shoveled her walk in the winter.

Once you became part of our town, your private life was your private life, and it wasn’t anybody’s business who you loved and/or slept with.

People like Harris Hines and and Dallas Erickson never seemed to learn that, though. For reasons that perhaps only a trained psychiatrist could explain, they seem obsessed with who someone sleeps with, and quite uncomfortably, how they do it. They hate people who are gay, lesbian, or transgender so much that they’ll lie about them, spew vicious invective at them, and even suggest that the death penalty would be appropriate for the crime of loving someone of the same sex.

Now they want to make sure that a community can’t decide to resist that hate.

The good people of Missoula know that discrimination against GLBT Montanans still exists, in overt from people like Himes and Erickson, and in subtler forms from others, and so, their city council passed an ordinance to protect citizens from discrimination in housing and employment for “actual or perceived” sexual orientation.

It’s an ordinance that I wish didn’t need to exist. I’d like to believe that we’ve moved past hatred and fear based on sexual orientation, but we’re not there yet. Gays and lesbians face discrimination daily, and while this ordinance is unlikely to solve that, it at least gives people the tools to redress wrongs done them and access to the rights our constitution gives every Montanan.

Intellectually, it’s easy to attack Representative Hansen’s bill because it’s a complete reversal of her party’s belief in local control, because no one wants to attack another person for bigotry. That’s too easy, though. This bill is more than hypocrisy; it’s bigotry at its worst.

I don’t know Mrs. Hansen, but I do know bigotry when I see it, and HB 516 is nothing but legalized support for discrimination. If Dallas Erickson helped draft it, you can be sure of that. This bill, if passed, will legalize hatred, fear, and discrimination.

Local control matters, but human rights matter even more.

We can’t stop people from wondering about the new person on the block, but the law can—and must—protect their rights to move and live there freely. GLBT Montanans are your your friends, your firefighters, your ministers and your teachers. Is so much to ask that they be legally protected as your neighbors, your co-workers, and your community members?

Absolutely not. Let the Senate Committee know that Montanans don’t support bigotry. Come to the Capitol, Room 405 at 3:00 tomorrow. If you can’t make it, be sure to send a message to the Senate Local Government Committee.

D. Gregory Smith says it much better (and more directly) than I did. Read what he had to say.

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About the author

Don Pogreba

Don Pogreba has been writing about Montana politics since 2005 and teaching high school English since 2000. He's a 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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