Jeanette Zentgraf, 75, is on a mission. A member of the conservative policy group Concerned Women for America, Zentgraf says she aims to persuade the Missoula City Council to nix a proposed law that would make it illegal to discriminate against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people. The law would be the first of its kind in the state.
"It's a hard sell," Zentgraf admits.
The diminutive Zentgraf was the only person to testify against the ordinance during a committee meeting last week. Though the odds are stacked against her in socially progressive Missoula, she says she'll continue speaking out against the law.
That's because Zentgraf believes an anti-discrimination law would open the door to a range of unjust and frivolous claims. She points to similar legislation on the books in New Mexico that enabled a lesbian couple to file a claim against a photographer who refused to take pictures of their commitment ceremony.
The photographer, Elaine Huguenin, said her religious beliefs prevented her from taking pictures of the ceremony. But that didn't fly with the state's Human Rights Bureau, which held her responsible for the plaintiff's legal expenses. In December, a district court judge upheld the findings.
"[The law removes] the right to make a decision based on personal faith and belief," Zentgraf says. "I believe that the business owner should have to decide what's best for their company."
But LGBT advocates say Zentgraf's logic is deeply flawed. Neither the basic tenets of fairness nor Montana's Constitution grant the right to deny housing, employment or services to anyone, says Jamee Greer of the Montana Human Rights Network, one of several groups sponsoring the Missoula ordinance.
"What if she was saying this about people of a different race or a different religion? Would that be acceptable? No," Greer says.
He believes the City Council will ultimately agree.
"I think that we can feel confident that members of the Missoula City Council will do the right thing, and that's pass this ordinance," he says.
Still, Zentgraf says she'll remain vocal, even if it seems no one is listening.
"It's like whistling in the dark," she says.