Governor issues executive order protecting LGBT workers from discrimination

Gov. Steve Bullock signed an executive order on Jan. 18 stating that state agencies and their contractors cannot discriminate against employees for their gender identification or sexual orientation. Bullock stated in a press conference on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day that he wanted to “recommit to King’s values of compassion and equity,” and did so with his groundbreaking change to the public work environment in Montana.

Laura Nearpass of MSU Queer Straight Alliance (QSA) noted the impact this order will have on LGBTQIA Montanans. She said, “LGBTQIA or any separately identifying person cannot be fired now because of the executive order, as long as they work for a government facility.” The executive order also applies to the hiring process for government and government-contracted entities, and while not made into law, Bullock urged private business owners to take a similar stance.

Nearpass and QSA are now looking at MSU to enact further change. With QSA having now sent a letter to the MSU administration formally requesting for better facilities and accommodations for transgender students, Nearpass believes the time is right to act. She said, “It would be a good place for the university system to step in and take that next step.” As for the details of these next steps, Nearpass said, “it could be anything from accepting transgender students to creating more facilities [for trans students].” QSA’s letter can be found at montana.edu/qsa/.

Prior to this executive order, the four Montana towns of Butte, Bozeman, Helena and Missoula had enacted their own non-discrimination ordinances protecting LGBT tourists and locals from workplace and housing discrimination. Former Gov. Brian Schweitzer issued a similar order in 2008 protecting state employees from discrimination based on sexual orientation, and this new order will extend that protection to transgender Montanans.

The US currently has no law protecting LGBT people from discrimination in the workplace. While many states have enacted either partial or full non-discrimination laws or orders, Montana is one of 31 states where LGBT people in the private sector risk losing their jobs due to their sexual preference or identity. According to the Human Rights Campaign, 63 percent of LGBT Americans have faced discrimination in their lives, with most reporting that discrimination as workplace-related.

Darby Lacey, MSU student and Sustained Dialogue Program Coordinator at the MSU Diversity Awareness Office, wrote, “Hopefully, Governor Bullock’s action encourages private business owners to be more inclusive in their own hiring and business practices.” Lacey also noted the need for legislation to protect all people from workplace discrimination, public or private.