Non-Discrimination Policy Debate Risks Forgetting Precedent

In the most controversial issue discussed this year, the ASMSU Senate will reconvene tonight to continue discussion on a proposed resolution in support of a Bozeman-wide non-discrimination ordinance.

The issue was discussed and tabled at last week’s meeting after diverse public comment presented from both supporters and opponents of the ordinance. The resolution was at first  worded to support the non-discrimination ordinance outright, but after criticism that the document hadn’t yet been written, it was amended to simply support the drafting an ordinance.

The non-discrimination policy, when drafted, and if passed by the Bozeman City Commission, would protect people from discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression in housing, the workplace and other public accommodations  The ordinance would  match those adopted in recent years by Missoula, Helena and Butte.

Supporters and opponents have continued to remain vocal outside of last week’s senate meeting, and it’s likely a wide range of viewpoints will be shared at tonight’s meeting. In deciding whether to support the non-discrimination ordinance, the senate seemingly faces a tough choice in balancing the differing views of their constituents.

The senate should also consider that just last year the body passed a resolution in support of the Montana University System adopting a non-discrimination policy that includes sexual orientation and gender identity. The initiative was originally driven by a concern over the lack of unisex restrooms on the MSU campus, and after being passed by seven out eight student governments in the system, the policy was officially adopted by the Board of Regents at their July meeting.

To now not support the city-wide policy would be to institutionally send a confusing and contradictory message. The current members of the ASMSU senate are much different than the senate that supported the issue last year, but the ideals the senate hold themselves to should not be. In supporting the resolution then, the senate stated that as a student body we hold ourselves responsible to this standard of non-discrimination. We cannot continue to hold ourselves to one standard and expect to hold the larger Bozeman community to a different one. This double standard sets a dangerous precedent, and constantly wavering diminishes any impact ASMSU’s support may have. After all, a student government that stands for nothing is no better than useless.

Moving forward, and regardless of where one stands on the issue, input must be given to the senate from their constituents. These decisions are made based on who shows up and those who care about the issues, rather than passive complaints about the direction in which the campus culture moves. No matter what the senate ultimately decides, students should also make their voice heard at Bozeman City Commission meetings — the body ultimately responsible for adopting the policy.

It’s additionally worth noting that elections for next year’s senate are Tuesday and Wednesday next week. There is no way to make a more direct impact on the representation you receive than by voting for those who represent you.

For more information on last week’s meeting, please see the news article on page 5.

Students interested in voicing their opinions on the policy should attend the senate meeting on Thursday, Feb. 27 in SUB 235 at 6 p.m. or contact their college’s senator.