Friday, February 26, 2010

Supporters launch campaign for anti-discrimination ordinance

by Keila Szpaller for The Missoulian:

A call for human rights Monday drew whoops and hollers and "Honk 4 Equality" signs in a downtown conference room.

The whoops were in support of an anti-discrimination ordinance - or a pro-human rights law - heading soon to the Missoula City Council. It's one several supporters said is long overdue.

"It could have been 10 years ago we were sitting here endorsing this," said Mark Anderlik, president of the Missoula Area Central Labor Council, before the event kicked off. "Shoulda been."

The proposal, the first of its kind in Montana, offers citywide protection from discrimination for all people, including members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community in employment, housing and public accommodations.

During the event, some 60 people filled the Jack Reidy Conference Room outside Council Chambers and more spilled into the hall. One organizer asked people to stand.

"We're trying to make it look like a nice packed house here," the organizer said.

Part of the move involves collecting stories of discrimination as well as petition signatures, said Jamee Greer, organizer with the Montana Human Rights Network, leading the effort. People who have stories or want to gather signatures should contact Forward Montana at 542-8683 (that's 542-VOTE) or the network at (406) 442-5506.


The ordinance is rooted in principles already laid out in Montana and in Missoula. A Forward Montana spokesman pointed to the Montana Constitution, which says the dignity of the human being is "inviolable."

And Greer said the city's own charter notes Missoula is "enriched by the diversity and vitality of our people." Businesses such as DirecTV, Wal-Mart and the University of Montana have similar policies of their own, he said.

Councilwoman Stacy Rye, an ordinance sponsor, said she's spent much time rehearsing possible legal scenarios with the city attorney. Despite the core values expressed in the ordinance, people who don't identify themselves by name are posting hateful comments about it online.

"This is not a political issue. This is not a special interests issue," Rye said. "This is a human rights issue."

If it passes, Missoula will be the first city in Montana to protect people based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

Councilman Dave Strohmaier also is sponsoring the bill. Mayor John Engen spoke out in support at the event, and the ACLU of Montana and Montana Equality Now also are working on the effort, which Greer said will surely ripple across the state.

"When this ordinance passes, it will be the first in Montana, but not the last," he said.

No comments: