Diversity & Respect 

Looking back at City Council's historic anti-discrimination vote

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"As a Christian I cannot ignore the Bible which condemns homosexuality, and there cannot be special protections," wrote Rachel Hayes in a letter to City Council received April 9. "I believe the passage would abridge civil liberties of Christians."

During the public hearing, Iris Schmitt cried as she explained the measures she takes to protect her children.

"Children are demonstrating gay actions," she said. "I will describe to my children that it's not appropriate, because it's not appropriate. And, if they are born that way, there is counseling, there is help. If my child was gay, I would love them, just as I love all of you in this room."

Some pastors tried to strike a conciliatory tone with council, urging the members to table the ordinance. Given more time, religious organizations may be able to address their concerns. One pastor thanked the council for at least helping to unite the Christian community on one issue.

"If we've never agreed on anything else," said Midtown Church pastor Russ Smith, "we agree on this."

At the end of the hearing, after City Council announced the 10-2 vote in favor of the ordinance, Schmitt stood in the doorway to Council Chambers, leaning on her husband.

click to enlarge Iris Schmitt wept during her testimony against the anti-discrimination ordinance. “I work at a school, a middle school,” she said. “I see children acting upon the same sex, and it is not okay.” - PHOTO BY CATHRINE L. WALTERS
  • Photo by Cathrine L. Walters
  • Iris Schmitt wept during her testimony against the anti-discrimination ordinance. “I work at a school, a middle school,” she said. “I see children acting upon the same sex, and it is not okay.”

"Is that it?" he asked. "Did they do it?"

"It's done," Schmitt told him quietly. "It's over."

"Hope, hope, hope"

While civility and measured voices largely ruled the public hearing, a different tone was struck just a block away at the Badlander. Haitian lesbian poet Lenelle Moise, a member of the radical performance group Sister Spit, brought a queer crowd to its feet.

"I'm sick of this shit, this be polite shit...I reserve my right to anger...I reserve my right to say fuck you," Moise said between cheers and whistles that emanated from the mostly lesbian and transgender audience.

Moise read from her self-penned piece, "The Fuck You Now Manifesto." The work, she explained, stemmed from an encounter with a stranger who felt compelled to, apropos of nothing, shout at the poet and her partner, "Hey, I eat pussy, too."

That kind of stuff happens to her all the time, Moise said, while many in the audience nodded their heads in a shared frustration. Moise resolved to no longer let anger that stems from incidents of that kind sit quietly inside.

"I'll remember, I did not cower away like an intimidated mouse," she said. "I'll remember. And I'll laugh my fucking ass off."

Moise's piece and the Sister Spit performance as a whole provided a release for local LGBT people who weathered weeks of being equated with pedophiles, perverts and sinners as part of the anti-discrimination ordinance debate.

The Monday night show was strangely serendipitous, said Eileen Myles, the current University of Montana Hugo Visiting Writer and organizer of the event. When planning the show, she had no idea the City Council meeting would take place the same night. She kept tabs on the anti-discrimination ordinance debate throughout the evening, periodically glancing up at MCAT's broadcast on the television above the Badlander bar. For Myles, the law's passage conveys social acceptance.

"I like the idea of the law claiming us," said Myles, who lives in New York. "We didn't come from someplace else. We grew here."

When asked about ordinance backlash, specifically the Not My Bathroom group, Myles scoffed. Really, she said, it's not women and children who face danger in public restrooms. If anyone should be scared, it's androgynous people or a woman with masculine attributes.

"A bathroom is a dangerous place for us, not for kids," she said.

click to enlarge City Council listened to five hours of public comment during the hearing. According to the mayor’s office, 134 people spoke, with 85 in favor of the anti-discrimination ordinance and 49 opposed. - PHOTO BY CATHRINE L. WALTERS
  • Photo by Cathrine L. Walters
  • City Council listened to five hours of public comment during the hearing. According to the mayor’s office, 134 people spoke, with 85 in favor of the anti-discrimination ordinance and 49 opposed.

The event featured Myles and Moise, as well as alternative culture luminaries like writer and founding Sister Spit member Michelle Tea, film director and screenwriter Silas Howard, and translady Annie Danger.

Danger, like Moise, tapped the crowd's activist vein. Prior to taking the stage, she ran through the crowd, landing high-fives on outstretched hands. Assuming the persona of a late-night infomercial host, the dapper Danger—close-cropped hair, white slacks, a baby blue shirt and yellow tie—made her way to the stage.

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