Nondiscrimination ordinances can be as good for business as they are for the people whose civil rights they protect.
That’s what Hope Errico Wisneski, regional field director for the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest advocacy group for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, told a crowd of about 35 people Tuesday evening. She also said that inclusiveness is important, especially among small businesses and particularly for millennial-aged workers — those born between 1981-99.
“They want to know their friends are protected,” Wisneski told a crowd dining on Mexican food at the event hosted by Q360 Health. “When they see mistreatment, they feel they’re at risk too.”
Wisneski, whose territory includes 18 western states, is in town to help those in support of Billings’ nondiscrimination ordinance. The city council is scheduled to work on the third draft of the ordinance during a work session Monday followed by a possible vote on the ordinance Aug. 11.
When companies relocate their employees, they want them to feel comfortable in their new community, Wisneski said. To date, 44 percent of Americans live in a community or a state covered by a nondiscrimination ordinance or by marriage equality, she said.
“People need to bring their whole selves to work,” she said. When employees feel comfortable and secure that the community supports such goals as equal accommodation and fair housing, employees “are more productive and more loyal” to their employer, she said.
“The NDO is going to be good for Billings and good for business,” said Suzie Eades, who hosted Tuesday’s gathering outside her West End business. “In my book, if something isn’t written down, it doesn’t exist. (The NDO) will help level the playing field for everybody.”
Wisneski, who herself has testified on the NDO before the Billings City Council, told supporters that they are “at a challenging place in your journey, but there is a happily ever after. It may feel daunting and it may feel like a heavy lift, but know you aren’t alone.”
Since “things don’t move so quickly in Washington, D.C.,” the Human Rights Campaign has begun focusing more of its works in the states and in communities like Billings.
“Billings is moving more quickly than you might think,” she said. “It will come to pass.”
As she’s told the city council, Wisneski acknowledged “a lot of panic” over which bathroom and locker room will be used by transgender people. Transgender people “deserve peaceful and safe use of bathrooms,” she said, and there’s no evidence that they’re assaulting women and girls there.
“There’s just no data to support that fear,” she said.
Churches and other religious organizations are specifically exempted from most nondiscrimination ordinances, including Billings’, and can hire people based on their faith, she said.
As for public accommodation, Wisneski said an NDO prevents a movie theater owner from turning away her family — her wife and seven-year-old child — from enjoying a film together.
“Right now,” she said, “it’s legal for us to be discriminated against, simply because of the structure of our family.”
Liz Welch, LGBT advocacy coordinator for the American Civil Liberties Union of Montana, praised the more than 100 Billings businesses that have expressed support for the NDO, adding that she trusts the Billings total will top Bozeman’s 160 businesses in support of that community’s NDO.
“It’s important to keep moving forward and communicating with our city council,” she said, noting that council members Ken Crouch and Jani McCall were in the audience Tuesday. “It’s important to let them know this isn’t scaring off business, because business is really important in Billings.”