Diversity & Respect 

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

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Council Chambers started filling up with prospective speakers and interested observers well before the 7 p.m. meeting. Members of the Montana Human Rights Network staked out territory in the afternoon, only to find the Not My Bathroom contingent had already arrived. By the time the Diversity Day rally reached Pine Street, Council Chambers was full, as was an overflow room next door showing a live cable feed of the meeting. A line of speakers extended all the way down the building's main hallway, and those waiting persistently assured a steady stream of late arrivals there was no room ahead.

With few alternatives, the crowd flooded into Sean Kelly's, the next door "public house," and asked if the front flat-screen television could be switched to MCAT. Soon, the television in the back room of the Irish bar also flipped to the meeting, as did the small television on the other end of the main bar. By 7:30 p.m., staff finally switched the large flat-screen behind the stage, and nearly every table, bar stool and spot near a television speaker included sign-carrying or sticker-wearing proponents of the ordinance.

Hearing testimony proved difficult, but as key figures of the debate stepped to the microphone, the crowd cheered.

click to enlarge Big Sky Christian Center pastor and Alliance Defense Fund attorney Harris Himes, above, said the new legislation will open the door to a flurry of frivolous lawsuits. “Do you really want to attack that gorilla?” he asked. Opponents of the bill, below, staked out the sidewalk directly in front of City Council Chambers, but were outnumbered by supporters of the ordinance. - PHOTO BY CATHRINE L. WALTERS
  • Photo by Cathrine L. Walters
  • Big Sky Christian Center pastor and Alliance Defense Fund attorney Harris Himes, above, said the new legislation will open the door to a flurry of frivolous lawsuits. “Do you really want to attack that gorilla?” he asked. Opponents of the bill, below, staked out the sidewalk directly in front of City Council Chambers, but were outnumbered by supporters of the ordinance.

"Bring it, Jamee!" shouted one patron stationed under the back room television so he could hear Jamee Greer of the Montana Human Rights Network speak.

The only confrontation inside Sean Kelly's came when the bar announced that its regularly scheduled open mic night would proceed as planned at 9 p.m. Undeterred, parties arranged to reconvene at the Union Club. Another group confirmed Al's & Vic's had the meeting on—and you could hear it. Then a rumor circulated that, at any minute, the daughter of Not My Bathroom co-founder Tei Nash would speak in front of council and officially come out of the closet in front of her father. Just as quickly, that rumor was debunked—she was supposedly in Spokane.

When open mic started, the remaining viewers took to the bar's back room and continued watching the meeting.

Burton said the bar usually turns off its televisions during live music, but this night proved an exception.

"We'd at least turn the volume down, but we're too afraid to shut it off," she said.

Then Burton added one other tidbit: Even with the overflow crowd and two-hour-plus rush, not one person reported a problem with the bar's bathroom.

"Not a peep," she said. "Not a thing."

"He had no idea"

Taryn Nash spent Monday afternoon driving from Spokane, where she's studying to be a physician's assistant, to her native Missoula. She says she was nervous the entire trip, and for good reason: She planned to speak in favor of the anti-discrimination ordinance and officially come out as a member of the LGBT community to her father, Tei Nash.

Taryn had told a few friends in the local LGBT community of her plans—hence the rumors—but kept her arrival a secret to her father.

"He had no idea," she said. "That was the idea. When I was about the third person in line I saw that he got up and left."

Taryn spoke for the allotted three minutes, directing the first half of her testimony to her father.

"Dad, I strongly disagree with the way you have been portraying the LGBT community, who are my friends," she said. "You have gone too far. I will not sit back any longer and be quiet. I love you because you are my dad, but I have lost respect for you. Your blanket judgments and irrational conclusions are ignorant and hurtful. You need to realize that this crusade that you are on is wrong and it affects me personally. It makes me sad to say this, but Dad, right now I am ashamed to call you my father. I am asking you to stop your ridiculous agenda of battling the LGBT rights or you will lose me forever."

The second part of her testimony focused squarely on the ordinance.

"I plan to practice medicine with an emphasis on geriatric care in the Missoula community, and I hope to live in a community where I won't be discriminated against based upon my orientation," she said. "I also encourage you to pass this ordinance because these wonderful people of the LGBT community deserve protection against discrimination in all areas. They are hard working, trustworthy, loving and respectable people, and I am proud to call them my family."

After speaking, Taryn, 25, was greeted by a small crowd of friends in the hallway outside Council Chambers. She planned on leaving immediately to drive back to Spokane. She had class at 8 a.m.

"It wasn't hard for me to speak out because I'm absolutely passionate about this," Taryn told the Indy. "It was hard for me tonight, though, because my father is who he is. He's a strong voice in the community, and for that reason I've been intimidated. But I'm not scared anymore."

Fear factor

One of the prevailing sentiments throughout the public comment period was fear. Many members of the LGBT community said they were telling their story for the first time—of getting fired for being a lesbian, of getting denied housing for being gay, of getting attacked for being transgender. Discrimination in Missoula is real, was their message, and this ordinance offered the chance, finally, to acknowledge that members of the LGBT community are equal under the same protections of the law as their neighbors.

Chris Lockridge, for instance, felt he had to lie when his partner's mother died so he could get off work.

"I was afraid," he told the council.

Opponents of the ordinance used that exact same argument—fear—to express their concern with the ordinance. Simply by holding certain beliefs, they were already in violation of the proposal.

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