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Push for Montana LGBT non-discrimination law causes strife

Photo credit:
Billings Gazette

HELENA, Mont -- Emboldened by the desire for inclusively, advocates launched a bid calling for a non-discrimination law to include Montana’s LGBT community on Wednesday.

Proponents said such protections could create an atmosphere of inclusion in the state’s businesses environment and therefore increase revenue.

Some argued that this lack of extension to the LGBT community could result in the same controversy which surrounded North Carolina last year when they passed a law which prohibited legal protections for LGBT people. As a result, several big businesses and sporting events decided to boycott North Carolina which cost them millions.

Democratic Rep. Kelly McCarthy of Billings sponsored the Montana proposal and stood before the House Judiciary Committee, asserting that the passing of the law would show the rest of the world Montana welcomes corporations that value diversity and inclusion.  

"Let's not give anybody a reason not to come here," McCarthy told the committee.

The panel heard arguments for and against the bill which lasted more than two hours.

On one side, many gave personal accounts of discrimination because of their sexual orientation, while opponents said they were afraid such a law would take away their religious freedoms.

The bill seeks to include gays, lesbians and trans folks under the umbrella of citizens protected by the states anti-discrimination law.

Montana’s Human Rights Bureau already enforces laws which protect people from discrimination in employment, housing and public services based on race, sex, disability, age or national origin.

Only a handful of states protect LGBT people from workplace and housing discrimination, and some of those do not include gender identity.

Montana's proposal would add "gender identity or expression" and "sexual orientation" to existing laws.

Jeff Laszloffy, the president of the Montana Family Foundation urged the committee to disregard the proposal for fear that people would abuse it to gain unlawful entry into public spaces.

"For those concerned about unintended consequences, this bill should set off all kinds of alarm bells," he said. "If you pass this bill, it would give boys and men unfettered access to girls' locker rooms."

One speaker, Kathleen O'Donnell, gave a personal account of homophobia after she tried to rent an apartment with her fiancée and son.

The landlord rejected her family, saying “her kind” would not be allowed.

"Many emotions rang through my head -- confusion, anger, sadness," O'Donnell said. "'My kind' was a person who had a stable job and a good rental history in search of a home