Billings Leadership is Profoundly Disappointing

Mayor Bill Cole
Pam Purinton
Shaun Brown
Mike Boyett
Mike Yakawich
Roy Neese
Frank Ewalt

The above seven names voted last night to not proceed with examining the possibility of a non-discrimination ordinance (NDO) for the City of Billings. This was not a vote on an NDO, just a vote on whether the City Council will even entertain the possibility of discussing and voting on one.

Some citizens may be unaware of this, but Montanans do not all have equal opportunity to employment, housing and public accommodations. State law does not protect Montanans on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. Legislatively, Montana is still a few decades behind, so individual cities have passed NDOs to cover this gap. Currently, five Montana communities have NDOs in place to ensure equality: Helena, Missoula, Bozeman, Whitefish, and Butte. Notice Montana’s largest community is missing from this list? This isn’t the first time Billings has rejected an NDO; a full-on ordinance was attempted in 2014.

So last night, some Council and community members again attempted to drag Billings into the 21st Century. And Mayor Bill Cole’s response to even consider a discussion and vote down the road?

“I simply do not have the bandwidth” to also work through an NDO, he said. The Mayor doesn’t have the time.

Communities across the country miss out on growth, high-paying jobs, and employee retention when employees cannot be safe and secure in their communities. Imagine being kicked out of your rental, people being turned away from public storefronts, or for being fired for being gay.

Trigger warning: I’m going to share some of the “concerns” against even discussing an NDO that were expressed at the meeting. And then I’m going to address why every concern brought up at the City Council last night was absolute trash. 

Perhaps the language is unconstitutional. I’m sure the other 5 existing NDOs in the state have this covered.

Does this mean I have to bake cakes for gay weddings? Sure does, buddy. Just how you have to bake cakes for minorities, Judy from next door, and anyone else who patronizes your public business/public store front existing within city limits with public roads and sidewalks. Welcome to commerce in the public!

Does this mean we have to serve everyone equally? Hell yes it does. Those gay tax dollars that are collected are just the same as the straight dollars. All Montana citizens deserve the same protections under the law. 

But what about religious freedom? You’ve still got it! An NDO doesn’t take away your ability to be Christian, Hindu, Muslim, or non-religious. You just don’t get to kick out the gay renters because they’re gay. An NDO removes discrimination and levels the playing field. Granting equal treatment under the law does not lessen your rights under the law. 

But what if I disagree with their “lifestyle”? Disagree all you want — but you don’t get to discriminate against other Montanans. Trust me, friend, I disagree with plenty of people, but I don’t get to legally fire them because of that. 

What if one of them wants to use a bathroom? Then they use a bathroom. Since when did Americans become bathroom police spying on each other’s private body parts? Guess what (brace yourselves) you’ve used public bathroom facilities with people ALL OF YOUR LIVES with NO IDEA what’s in their trousers. Grow up. Use your stall. Keep your eyes to yourself. “Bathroom panic” is a fallacy perpetuated by people intent on continuing to legally discriminate against other citizens: and they think FEAR is the vehicle to sustain their status. 

If Billings desires to be competitive, it must offer equal protection under the law. With the City Council attempting to pass a Safety Levy, claiming that they need more law enforcement and other safety improvements, perhaps some more thought should have gone into this NDO conversation. LGBTQ+ Billings residents are NOT safe: these citizens can be fired, denied housing, and discriminated against. An NDO would have cost the taxpayers nothing, but would have provided necessary safety to the LGBTQ+ community. Those seven City Council members have demonstrated how short-sighted they are and how their concerns for the Billings community only extend to safety of certain residents. But they sure-as-hell will use LGBTQ+ tax dollars for levies and other City bills.

Local elections have consequences. Don’t forget their agenda the next time you cast a ballot: for their seats, or for this “safety levy”.

**

I want to extend the highest praise for the principled City Council members who took the time to try and move an NDO discussion forward: Penny Ronning, Kendra Shaw, Denise Joy and Danny Choriki. Thank you for your leadership and representation of ALL Billings residents. You make me proud to live in Eastern Montana.

Anti-LGBTQ Laws and behavior have real economic consequences. Just ask North Carolina.

The other five cities with NDOs are thriving and Constitutional, tyvm.

Passionate about this topic and wish to share your praise or concerns (or anger) with the City Council? Contact them HERE.

One of my fellow esteemed The Montana Post contributors, Pete Talbot, has these excellent further thoughts on the failure of the Billings City Council: 

Mayor and constitutional scholar Bill Cole voted against the ordinance saying the language was unconstitutional. So, the other five Montana cities that have passed ordinances are in violation of the Constitution? Yeah, right. And:
Along with that, he said, is the timing. The council will be working this summer to sell a public safety mill levy to voters…

I’ve already read a number of social media comments saying if the city isn’t going to look after the welfare and safety of its LGBTQ residents, why the hell should they vote for a public safety mill levy for the rest of the community.

Then there were the “Christians” who were afraid the ordinance might hurt their businesses when they refuse to serve customers whose sexual orientation bothers them. I have news for them, once folks from the LGBTQ community realize you’re bigots, they aren’t going to patronize your business anyway. And please point to examples in the five Montana cities that have passed an ordinance that they’re suffering from lawsuits or economic decline. It’s quite the opposite, actually.

No one has ever successfully explained to me where the term The Magic City originated but I was willing to run with it. No more.

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About the author

Plains Feminist

Montana and national politics from a Southeastern Montana perspective, focusing on regional activism, womxn’s issues, LGBTQ equality, education, and revitalization of the Montana Democratic Party. Plains Feminist tries (sometimes fruitfully, sometimes not so much) to connect with the hard-working folks who *eek* out a living on the “not mountains” side of the state. Plains Feminist enjoys intellectual banter over coffee or beer preferably after dark. You can reach her at [email protected] or on Twitter @PlainsFeminist.

26 Comments

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  • Oh but you forget that agenda two item was agreed to. The Human Relations Commission code amendment revisal. The cart b4 the horse? The back door to the NDO? Just saying.

    • Any time someone closes a statement with, “just saying” I look around for a pony. When the manure gets that deep, there’s gotta be a pony somewhere.

    • The Mayor made it crystal clear that he does not have the time nor the energy to deal with an NDO. He couldn’t even find the conscience to vote YES to just put it on the agenda. Anyone who sat through last night’s meeting, or watched the full video, walked away with the clear message that the City Council of Billings has no interest in any back door NDO discussion.

      And let’s be real here: even *if* you are correct and they managed to somehow back door an NDO in and this was the first step — last night’s proceedings were a nasty slap in the face to faith leaders, LGBTQ+ people who spoke last night, the 600 citizens who sent emails, and everyone who wrote and expressed their views about Billings’ growth. And for that alone the Council members deserve my articulated ire above.

  • In the entire country over the past 20 years, there have been more people (including children) harassed or molested in public bathrooms by sitting members of Congress than by LGBTQ citizens. Where’s the outrage over that?

    • Indeed. Their FEAR machine is unrelated to reality and is in full panic full steam ahead. I have zero worries about sharing a public bathroom with an LGBTQ+ community member. I’m more concerned about some nosy self-identified “concerned Christian” trying to watch me use the facilities. Creepy.

    • This absurd argument is no more true today than any of the other times you’ve posted it, Eric.

      Legal protection from discrimination is not a special right. How can you not see that?

    • @E (I have several words in mind that letter might stand for) – What “special” rights do you not have now that LGBTQ people do have? What “special” rights are being proposed for them that would make you feel slighted?

      When you lose a job or a home because of YOUR sexual orientation, I’ll listen to what you have to say.

    • Hi there, E.
      Your question is addressed above in the article. I’m assuming you haven’t taken the time to read it. Let me know when you have read it and you have your answer regarding “rights”.

      Thanks!

      • I can name a few Constitutionally protected rights that have been, infringed, regulated, conditionalize, licensed… Go read the US Constitution Annotated or the Montana Constitution Annotated (MCA)

        • MCA is actually Montana CODE Annotated… but don’t let me slow your roll there.

          And obviously I’ve read both documents and can name them accurately. Unless you’re willing to note examples and citations regarding these “Constitutionally protected rights”, I don’t see you offering any critical information to this discussion, nor to the discussion of an NDO in Billings.

          • I doubt if you even read either of the documents I posted. If you had, you’d know why I referred to the MCA, MT CODE Annotated, as MT Constitution Annotated. So, obviously, you didn’t read either. I didn’t know that you were in charge of what people post here. That would be one of the problems with passing an NDO. Thanks for pointing that out.

            • @e – And yet, you still haven’t named even one of those rights that have been “infringed.” You still haven’t named even one of those “special” rights proposed for LGBTQ citizens that you feel should be reserved to you.

              Poormouthing about how badly YOU are being treated doesn’t provide validation for mean-spirited demands to continue discrimination and bigotry against people YOU don’t approve of.

      • Well, I guess I’m the ‘Big E’

        The admin can look at the email address to sort us out.

        I’ve been in business most of my life. And if my sales stink the company I work for will fire me.

        But with the discriminatory NDO ordinance, I could tell them I’m gay and I couldn’t be fired, because it would be discrimination.

        It would be like a invisible shield – steal my parking space and you are a bigot.

        I’m being far-fetched for a reason.

        Special protections = Special rights.

          • Well, About 95% of the population agrees with me, not you Pogie.

            Since when should 2.9% of the population dictate to the rest of us?

            Have you ever thought about the numbers?

            • @E – How……..trumpian……….of you. You can’t make a cogent presentation of actual facts, so you just make them up.

              “About 95% of the population” ????

              To put it succinctly – Bull!!! That’s not just a lie, it’s a damned lie.

            • You really should read something sometime. Do you really believe that 95% of the population believes you? Weird that so many cities and states are passing NDOs then.

              • Numbers mean something.

                Gallup polls says that 2.6% of Montanans identify themselves as LBGTQ.

                So my first question is very valid – exactly where in a Constituional Republic form of government does less than 3% dictate to the majority.?

                A democracy is mob rule – 50% plus one vote rules.

                But in your pro-gay zeal you think that somebody can wake up in the morning, decide what sex they are, and if anybody disagrees with them, that person is a bigot, right?

                • The entire point of a republican form of government is so that the majority can’t violate the rights of a minority.

                  Please, please, please read a book.

                • @E – Indeed, numbers mean something. According to your spiteful rationale, because there are more people like me than there are like you (thankfully), WE get to treat you like dirt.

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