Remember in early February when Anthem Blue Cross of California announced that its health insurance rates would rise as much as 39 percent, and it emboldened lawmakers working to pass health care reform? Well, we hope the recent emergence of the bigoted "Not My Bathroom" (NMB) campaign has a similar effect on our local leaders.

Last week, NMB launched an effort to defeat the Missoula City Council's proposed anti-discrimination law that includes sexual orientation and gender identity. NMB is led by self-appointed moral arbiters Tei Nash and Dallas Erickson. Erickson, a Stevensville-based founder of Help Our Moral Environment, or HOME, regularly confronts perceived social iniquities including pornography, obscenity and gays.

And now he's targeting transgender people. Erickson's group shamelessly argues that the anti-discrimination ordinance, which honors gender expression regardless of an individual's sex at birth, would open public bathrooms to sexual offenders aiming to take advantage of Missoula's vulnerable women and children.

An NMB letter poses such a scenario: "Can you imagine the mischief at our public schools where male teachers could go in the little girls' room and teenagers, just by saying they are the other gender, could use the opposite sex bathrooms? What teenage boy with hormones raging would not be tempted to try that one? There is no test to determine if the person is homosexual or has gender issues."

We chuckled, envisioning potty police raiding restrooms to check for tangible evidence of gender. But we didn't laugh long. It's appalling that NMB portrays men who express feminine gender identities as scheming sexual predators. Transgender people already use public bathrooms. And according to city attorney Jim Nugent, it's completely legal for a man to use a woman's restroom and vice versa.

NMB's paranoid claims (sort of like the health care reform being called a socialist plot to kill your grandmother) distort the ordinance's real focus, which is to ensure that all people have equal access to the same opportunities. What a concept.

It's currently legal in Montana to fire someone from a job because of sexual orientation. It's also legal to deny housing or services to a transgender person. That's wrong. How ironic that NMB's small-minded fear mongering gives City Council a perfect, if repugnant, example of why the anti-discrimination ordinance is so necessary.

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