Diversity & Respect 

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

Page 4 of 4

"Those of you who came for action, raise your hands and say, 'Hell yes,'" she said. The raucous crowd happily complied. Danger pushed forward, explaining that outrage for the socially minded is integral to happiness.

"Every single person that I encounter is furious about how this world is being run," she said. "How many of you have tried to do something about it?"

The crowd jumped to its feet. A woman in the front row waved a large sign left from the Diversity Day march earlier in the evening, prompting Danger to share more morsels of paradigm-shifting insight.

"I'm a revolutionary. And what that means is, I believe I can make change in the world," Danger said.

That's what it takes, she said. One must get up everyday and find hope. As she prepared to leave the stage, Danger called on the crowd to join her in a growing chorus of "Hope, hope, hope."

History in the making

By 12:30 a.m., after five hours of public comment and a short recess to allow everyone in the still-full chambers to stretch, Mayor John Engen opened City Council's debate of the ordinance.

The late hour and emotional testimony prompted many council members to apologize for being a little tired, tripping over words or stumbling through parliamentary procedures. It also appeared to encourage them to tell personal stories of why, exactly, they wanted to vote in favor of the state's first-ever LGBT anti-discrimination ordinance.

"Over the past several weeks, I've received what you might say is a fair number of less than charitable phone calls and e-mail messages, some expressing dismay that I have small children and at the same time would support this ordinance," said Dave Strohmaier, Ward 1 council member and co-author of the measure. "To those individuals, I say it is precisely because I have children that I am unwavering in my commitment to passing this ordinance this evening, or this morning as the case may be. I want to bestow to my kids a Missoula that will value them regardless of who they are or what they look like, regardless of whether they're gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender."

click to enlarge Hundreds of demonstrators lined both sides of Pine Street before the public hearing. Despite the large crowds, police reported no incidents during the event. - PHOTO BY CATHRINE L. WALTERS
  • Photo by Cathrine L. Walters
  • Hundreds of demonstrators lined both sides of Pine Street before the public hearing. Despite the large crowds, police reported no incidents during the event.

Ward 4's Jon Wilkins spoke openly about being adopted by "holy rollers" who tried to cast the demons out of him when he was young.

"Well, they did," he said, "but I went with them."

Wilkins said he actually switched local churches over the ordinance, declining to remain a part of a congregation that couldn't accept members of the LGBT community and their lifestyle.

"I grew up in that philosophy," he said. "I knew it was wrong when I was 12 years old, and I believe it's wrong today."

Wilkins voted for the ordinance.

Ward 1's Jason Wiener shared a similar story of being raised in a fundamentalist household and being driven to pass the ordinance as much because of why some opposed it, as for why he supported it. He quoted Isaiah 61:1, which had been tacked to his door as a child. It reads: "The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives, and release from darkness for the prisoners."

Wiener said he would live up to that passage with his vote in favor of the ordinance.

Ward 5's Dick Haines spoke of racial discrimination he witnessed in the U.S. Army and retold a story of crossing the country with a black soldier. Ward 5's Renee Mitchell recalled her own experience of discrimination as a young basketball player wanting to compete with men. Haines voted for the ordinance. Mitchell, along with Ward 4's Lyn Hellegaard, did not.

Ward 3's Stacy Rye, the other co-author of the measure, said she'd never experienced a public hearing like this one. The stories of hate and injustice relayed to council showed that not everyone is free in our society.

"Most of us can't remember civil rights in action," she said. "This is it for us. This is our lifetimes."

That sentiment stuck with Olafson outside the Council Chambers after the final vote was announced. The University of Montana student didn't know what to expect from the charged evening when she first joined the Diversity Day march—Confrontation? Chaos? Who knew? But she came away with a sense of pride in both the outcome, and the level of debate between two disparate parts of the community.

"There's been a lot of passion on both sides, and I respect that," she said. "It's been educational. It's been very encouraging. To see how all of this has gone on, seeing how many people care so much about this issue, it's inspired me even more. I understand that today's just the first part of a longer conversation."

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