As Billings officials craft a proposed non-discrimination ordinance in the coming weeks, an existing ordinance they’ll turn to for ideas is Missoula's, which the city council passed in 2010.
“After four years, give or take, of having the ordinance on the books, there are a whole bunch of folks in Missoula who feel fully enfranchised, safe and comfortable in their community,” Missoula Mayor John Engen said. “There have not been any challenges I am aware of, and we’ve gone back to research that.”
Engen well remembers the 2010 city council meeting that concluded with a 10-2 vote in favor of the ordinance. The meeting began at 7 p.m. and concluded at 2 the next morning.
“We heard many concerns about weird stuff going on in (public) bathrooms and from folks in the religious community,” Engen said. “Fundamentally, some of those folks’ concerns remain, I imagine, but I haven’t heard anyone complain that the ordinance has brought out any of the concerns they had feared — hiring, the wrong genders in bathrooms, the victimization of children and sex crimes.”
“It was a long haul,” the mayor said, “but it was a very orderly, thoughtful hearing. Folks on all sides of the question behaved and were respectful. In the end the council weighed all it had heard and all that it knew and voted 10-2 to support the ordinance.”
According to the Missoula ordinance, it is the city’s intent “that no person shall be denied his or her civil rights or be discriminated against” based on a number of characteristics including sexual orientation, gender identity and expression. The ordinance calls discrimination in the areas of employment, public accommodations and housing “a serious threat to the health, safety and general welfare of the community. Discrimination creates strife and unrest and deprives the city of its full capacity for economic development by decreasing productivity and increasing demand for city services.”
The ordinance, available at www.ci.missoula.mt.us/DocumentCenter/Home/View/3503, includes fines of up to $500 for anyone found guilty of a fourth discrimination violation within a 12-month period.
Engen said he’s not sure if the ordinance has been good for business or for tourism.
“Missoula in general has a reputation for doing its best to engender equality,” he said. “Missoula frowns on discrimination in a very public way. We believe that lends comfort to people who find other communities less welcoming.”