Bozeman’s Chance At Equality

In 2013, the Supreme Court struck down the Federal Defense of Marriage Act, the number of states with legalized same sex marriage doubled and the Pope himself stated that he would not judge righteous gays and lesbians1. Resultantly, many are calling 2013 the gayest year ever. This surge of equality has flooded into 2014 as even more states are predicted to adopt marriage equality and the overall representation of the Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Queer (LGBTQ) population in the media is drastically increasing. However, as the community celebrates its historic victories of equality, a disheartening trend of transgender non-inclusivity is emerging. As pointed out by Niki Marie Buettner, a transgender MSU graduate and employee, “people throw the word ‘equality’ so carelessly. Saying ‘I am for gay equality’ means little for transsexual people.” To be put simply, in terms of equality, the ‘Trans’ portion of the commonly used LGBTQ acronym is being left behind.

Transgender populations are often underrepresented and are too often treated with disrespect, hatred and brutality. These troubling claims are mirrored and quantified by the facts on transgender populations: one in five in the U.S. have been denied housing due to their gender identity, according to the Human Rights Campaign. The University of California School of Law’s Williams Institute reported 41 percent have attempted suicide. In 2013 alone, 238 transgender people were murdered, according to Transgender Europe. Nationally, there are no legally definitive workplace or housing protections for the LGBTQ population. In 33 states, including Montana, LGBTQ people may be fired for simply being who they are. Locally, there are no laws protecting such populations in the housing sector. Only a small solace of protection exists in the workplace for those that are specifically city of Bozeman employees or contracted by the city, leaving all other employers able to discriminate willingly.

In 2013 the Montana University System entities (ASMSU, ASUM and the Board of Regents) revised Policy 703 to extend discrimination protections to sexual orientation and gender identity. Although this addition of inclusive language was a definite step in the right direction, the appropriate actions that should have been triggered by this revision have yet to happen. The majority of university buildings do not have appropriate public accommodation, namely all-gender bathrooms. As a result, MSU’s transgender students and faculty are forced to seek out the few and scattered family bathrooms on campus. This is an adversity that should not be burdened by any student, especially on a campus that purportedly prides itself on diversity and engagement.

Non-heteronormative students also have to face a residence hall situation that is frequently neither appropriate nor accommodating. While applying for student housing, LGBTQ students must either hope for the allocation of a single bedroom and bathroom. These of course mean greater fees and is not a guaranteed option. Adding to the complete lack of consideration for LGBTQ students, the current application lists limited gender options, has virtually no input for preferences relating to sexual or gender identity and the only available special accommodation exists for students with disabilities. At seemingly every turn, our community is treated with detrimental inconsideration.

Solely pointing out problems and inadequacies concerning our current state of affairs is clearly not a constructive solution. Luckily, many advocates of the LGBTQ and allied causes have fought to change an unacceptable situation. A non-discrimination ordinance (NDO) in Bozeman will be part of a series of triumphs that mark a cultural shift toward a fully inclusive Montana. This proposed ordinance is backed by a myriad of businesses, organizations and faith leaders. The NDO has been written and promoted through a combined effort by Fair is Fair Montana, Montana Human Rights Network, American Civil Liberties Union of Montana, Forward Montana and many others. Bozeman’s NDO “will protect people from discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in the areas of housing, workplace and public accommodation”, explained Kiah Abbey, Forward Montana’s Field Organizer. Analogous ordinances have already been passed in Missoula and Helena, with Butte in the process of passing a Silver Bow county ordinance.

Bozeman has the opportunity to declare to its citizens and Montana as a whole that it will no longer tolerate discrimination or bigotry in any public setting. As expected, opponents of equality are beginning to voice their disinterest in an inclusive Bozeman. Opponents often rely on the tired defense that transgender people should not have equal access to public accommodation. This erroneous argument claims that transgender persons should not have the basic right to use public restrooms or facilities as they may pose a threat to public safety. Such vilification and calumniation on any person, regardless of identity, is simply unacceptable. From here we will either see Bozeman stand boldly on the side of unity and equality, or witness another defeat in the face of discrimination. Here is to fighting for a 2014 that will be remembered as the fairest year ever.