City Council hears more heated discussion over NDO

2014-07-21T21:37:00Z 2014-08-13T06:25:07Z City Council hears more heated discussion over NDOBy MIKE FERGUSON mferguson@billingsgazette.com The Billings Gazette

Once more, into the fray that has become the extended and often heated public debate over the proposed nondiscrimination ordinance, dozens of speakers told the Billings City Council Monday what they thought of the document’s third and final draft.

Studies were cited and some were refuted. The results of a poll were revealed, but not the details on how those results were gathered.

By the end of Monday’s work session which lasted about four hours, council members had reached consensus on most of the language of the ordinance, which will be considered during the council’s Aug. 11 meeting. That meeting, a regular meeting of the city council, will also include a public hearing and, later, a second reading — and then a 30-day period — before the ordinance can go into effect, should the council enact the ordinance.

The council is deeply divided over the ordinance, which prohibits discrimination against people based on sexual orientation or gender identity or expression. Five members — Ken Crouch, Al Swanson, Jani McCall, Becky Bird and Brent Cromley — have consistently supported the ordinance. Five members — Shaun Brown, Rich McFadden, Angela Cimmino, Denis Pitman and Mike Yakawich — have expressed opposition. Mayor Tom Hanel has not said publicly how he plans to vote next month.

One main item of contention Monday was a section on public accommodation that could require users of restrooms and locker rooms to use facilities designed for their anatomical sex, regardless of gender identity.

Many of those testifying said they found the language offensive and said locker room and restroom problems are a non-issue, but others voiced support for the suggested language, found in section 7-1805. By the end of the meeting, the consensus was to leave the public accommodation language in the proposal.

Jeff Laszloffy of the Montana Family Foundation told the council that his organization had spent $10,000 on an NDO poll asked of 400 likely voters. He said the poll suggests that if the ordinance is put to a public vote, it will fail by 16 percent.

Eighty-six percent of respondents said they were fairly or very familiar with the subject, he said, and a significant majority told pollsters the city council “had spent far too much time on the issue.”

Laszloffy declined to give specifics of the poll “to the opposition.” He said the council’s final action won’t be the final action on the NDO, since residents will either vote it down, if it’s put to a vote, or force it to a vote through the initiative process.

Councilman Ken Crouch said he was one of the 400 people to take the poll and was “offended by most of the questions.”

Other residents who testified Monday cited studies they said that showed that being gay was a choice and not an innate quality. One study of eight sets of twins, cited by Pam Adams, proved “that gays are not born that way,” she said.

Another study, mentioned by Shauna Goubeaux, herself an adoptive parent, concluded that children raised in same-sex families grow up healthy and are solid producers in society.

But Mark Carlstrom said that study is flawed, as is the 10 percent figure generally cited to quantify the gay minority. A recent study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention pegs that number at 2.7 percent, he said. There’s no conclusive evidence, he said, “that homosexuality is an inborn thing. It is due to complex developmental circumstances.”

Why would anybody choose to be gay, asked CJ Silbernagel, who said he’s a gay man and a Christian. “We do exist,” he said.

Roberta Zenker of Helena called herself “Montana’s first and only transgender attorney.” She said she’d faced employment discrimination because she is transgender, “and that’s hurtful and harmful, because I am a competent and qualified attorney and there’s no reason why I shouldn’t be hired.”

She said she didn’t file a discrimination lawsuit “because I wasn’t protected by the law, so I had no recourse.”

Transgender is not a sexual orientation, said Eran Thompson of Not in our Town, calling it “horrible to codify discrimination” in a nondiscrimination ordinance, adding that he doesn’t believe that “equal rights are finite.”

Included in Monday’s discussion were alternatives for people seeking civil remedy for a successful complaint of discrimination. Those alternatives will be combined going into the Aug. 11 meeting.

City Attorney Brent Brooks reminded council members that they can still make amendments during both the first and second readings of the ordinance next month.

Mayor Tom Hanel suggested at the end of the work session that the council move forward with the proposed language.

“August 11 is another opportunity to make changes,” he said. “We aren’t done by any means.”

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