Mayor Bill Cole
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:
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.