Billings residents lobby for, against still-unwritten nondiscrimination ordinance

2014-05-12T22:19:00Z 2014-05-13T12:02:07Z Billings residents lobby for, against still-unwritten nondiscrimination ordinanceBy MIKE FERGUSON mferguson@billingsgazette.com The Billings Gazette

On the night the Bozeman City Commission unanimously approved first reading of a nondiscrimination ordinance, people on both sides got a head start testifying before the Billings City Council on Monday.

Never mind that Billings’ 11-member council has not yet had a glimpse at the proposed ordinance, which is still being developed, and won’t until its June 16 meeting.

“We are kind of shooting in the dark here,” said council member Angela Cimino. “We haven’t seen the language at all.”

Liz Welch of Billings told council members that Billings’ lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual community has “become more vulnerable. This is a matter of public safety, and it’s your responsibility to make sure we protect them in a timely fashion.”

But Paul Ostrander, pastor of the Wicks Lane Baptist Church, said if the ordinance is indeed passed, “I must obey God rather than man.”

Craig Lancaster identified himself as a straight ally of the NDO. “It would be news to my wife,” he told the council with a smile, “if I came home to tell her things were otherwise.”

Baking a cake or mowing a lawn isn’t a religious act — they’re business practices, he said. “It’s not courageous if you pass this,” he told the city council. “It’s decent and just.”

“I’d urge you to pass this with (exemptions for religious institutions) to set the pastor’s mind at ease,” Lancaster said.

John Klier of Billings said he believes the ordinance “is being put in place for a problem that doesn’t exist.”

Billings resident Matt Klang said his voice was silenced while serving in the military by the “don’t ask, don’t tell policy.” Since then he’s found his voice, he told the city council.

“I am not afraid to stand before you and say this is who I am,” he said.

Timber Venard warned that tourism “could plummet” if an NDO is not enacted, since about 5 percent of visitors are gay, he said.

Before hearing from the large crowd, the city council voted unanimously to approve renaming Arrowhead Park Ball Field in the Heights to honor Greg Chirrick. Chirrick, a longtime baseball, hockey and football coach, died in April 2013 during the opening game of the Heights National Little League season.

Richard DeVore, chairman of the city’s Parks, Recreation and Cemetery Board, recommended the city council follow a recently-enacted board policy to wait two years following Chirrick’s death to grant him the honor. But the city council, acting on an initiative by council member Denis Pitman, who represents the Heights, decided to proceed with renaming the field in Chirrick’s honor.

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