Bozeman Barely Passes on LGBT Equality

According to the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) LGBT Equality Index, Bozeman scored 72 out of 100 for 2015. Bozeman is just getting by when it comes to making LGBT individuals feel at home. While many places do worse than “get by” when it comes to LGBT rights, Bozeman still needs to work toward not only getting a better HRC LGBT Equality Index score, but also providing a community that accepts all of its people, even outside of the five categories the HRC grades.

The five categories the HRC focuses on are Non-Discrimination Laws, Municipality as Employer, Municipal Services, Law Enforcement and Relationship with the LGBT Community. The city of Bozeman has non-discrimination laws that cover housing, employment and public accommodations, essentially providing that discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity is prohibited.

Municipality as Employer, ensures protection from discrimination for LGBT employees. Bozeman came in a bit below par. While the city does have non-discrimination in city employment and a city contractor non-discrimination ordinance, Bozeman has yet to enact transgender-inclusive healthcare benefits.

Municipal services that serve LGBT constituents are a sad affair. Bozeman does not have a human rights commission, LGBT liaison in the mayor’s office, nor anti-bullying school policies. However, Bozeman does have an enforcement mechanism in the HRC; provides services to LGBT youth, homeless and elderly; and provides services for persons living with HIV/AIDS.

According to the HRC, law enforcement should include responsible reporting of hate crimes and engaging with the LGBT community respectfully. Bozeman did report the 2013 hate crimes statistics, but there is no LGBT police representation.

The last category, Relationship with the LGBT Community, “measures the city leadership’s commitment to fully include the LGBT community and to advocate for full equality.” In 2015, Bozeman’s leadership had a positive public position on LGBT equality and made pro-equality efforts, in spite of restrictive state laws.  Bozeman also has openly LGBT elected and appointed municipal leaders.

The HRC LGBT Equality Index doesn’t, however, take into account community feelings about LGBT individuals, and has a problematic history with trans-inclusivity. Tyler Kelly, a community member, sheds light on this: “I’ve found accepting people here, but do not consider Bozeman as a whole very welcoming and accepting.”  This is echoed in the thoughts of many other community members and MSU students, such as Michel Tallichet. He expands, “There is still a lot of homophobia. It is often uncomfortable or dangerous to be openly affectionate with a partner in Bozeman.”  Carson Oetting, a junior at MSU, feels similarly, “I feel that…both MSU and Bozeman are overall LGBT-phobic.Bozeman, especially in comparison to many Montana towns, has a progressive legal attitude, but the community attitude is frequently unfriendly or openly hostile.

These comments illustrate the issue inherent in the HRC rating system. Identifying as LGBT may have some legal protections and representations, but that is not the only aspect that affects LGBT people. Community inclusion and acceptance is noticeably absent in the rating, just as it is in Bozeman. Providing a safe place for LGBT individuals does not simply include legal rights (though that is extremely important), it also includes the ability to express oneself in public and private areas without the fear of negative actions by Bozeman’s people, which includes MSU students and administration.

Bozeman has made a ton of progress in 2015. In 2014, Bozeman only scored a 58 — a failing score. The 14 point score jump in 2015 suggests changing public and legal perceptions of the LGBT community. Here’s hoping 2016 sees as much, or more, progress.

Visit hrc-assets.s3-website-us-east-1.amazonaws.com//files/assets/resources/Bozeman__Montana_2015.pdf for more information on the Bozeman 2015 HRC LGBT Equality Index Rating, and look up how other US cities scored at hrc.org/resources/mei-2015-see-your-citys-score.