In the early morning of Friday, March 17, a gay couple at the Silver Bullet Bar in Columbia Falls asked two men to stop hitting on their female friend. That encounter, according to Flathead County Sheriff’s Department Officer Bob Provo, led to a prolonged dispute.
According to Provo, when the offending men—Provo describes them as “cowboys”— were approached by the gay couple, the cowboys responded by calling the couple “faggots.” When both groups left the bar, the cowboys followed the couple home. In front of the couple’s home on Columbia Falls Stage Road, one of the gay men was beaten, receiving bruises and abrasions; he went to the hospital for treatment.
As for motivation, Provo says, “I’m not saying it’s related to them being gay, but I suspect it probably is.”
Both the Sheriff’s office and the Flathead County Attorney’s office declined to release names of the alleged suspect and victim, saying aspects of the case are still under investigation.
Provo says the victim asked officers to investigate the incident as a hate crime, but was notified that sexual orientation isn’t covered under Montana hate crime statutes. At this time, the Sheriff’s office has recommended aggravated assault charges against the suspect in the beating.
When an assault is charged as a hate crime under Montana law, it allows two to 10 years to be added to the sentence. Current law covers crimes committed because of the victim’s race, creed, religion, color, national origin, involvement in civil rights or human rights activities.
This year, Montana Sen. Carol Juneau, D-Browning, introduced legislation that would have added sexual orientation to the list. The bill was tabled, and is listed as “probably dead” on the legislature’s website.
Shane Nix, president of the Flathead Valley Alliance, a nonprofit LBGT support group, says crimes like this highlight the need to extend hate crime definitions.
“It’s not just the gay population,” who are affected by these crimes, he says. “It could be your child.”