Presidents’ Day landed on the 36th day of the legislative session and, with school dismissed, the Capitol swarmed with children.
Roughly 2,000 kids appeared before the rotunda just after lunch for the March Against Meth, otherwise known as the March for Montana Meth Project Funding. In the time-honored tradition of adults herding children for political causes, the event featured a sound system pumping outdated pop tracks. Sen. Max Baucus, Attorney General Steve Bullock and Chief Justice Mike McGrath greeted the crowd to the music of Evanescence, Pink and the Black Eyed Peas, who were hoping to “get it started,” rather than “get retarded.” (The band’s 2003 hit single originally served as an ode to drug use before being re-branded for mainstream distribution. Nice song choice for an anti-meth rally.)
Several Boy Scout troops also made it down to the judiciary hearing to protest House Bill 252—a move to extend discrimination legislation to the gay and lesbian community. It’s well known that the Boy Scouts don’t get jiggy with homosexuality and their refusal to allow gays and transsexuals into their ranks would equate, under the revised law, to a ban on the Scouts using certain public facilities.
“As a Boy Scout, I’m very concerned about this bill and the effect it will have upon the use of city, county and state public lands by the Boy Scouts,” said Stevensville Eagle Scout Brandon Fadely. “I don’t think Montanans will be happy at all with this bill.”
The purpose of the law obviously isn’t to kick the Scouts out of parks, but to extend to gays the same protections afforded race, creed, disability and nationality under the Montana Civil Rights Act. The law states that a group that excludes, for example, blacks, forfeits some of those collective use privileges.
At the hearing, several gay Montanans recounted stories of getting canned when word leaked about their sexual orientation. Missoulian Diane Keefauver described being basically run out of her stocking job at the Brooks Street Kmart after telling a few co-workers that she was gay.
A manager at the store refutes the allegation, claiming Keefauver was let go for unrelated reasons.
Although this debate makes for a zero-sum game, an ordeal like the one reported by Keefauver simply cannot be suffered. The Boy Scouts’ concerns are valid and their role as a community-serving American institution could never be overstated. However, to create different rules between gays and blacks and Blackfeet would send a truly rancid message about the state’s priorities.