Hundreds of people dressed in orange shirts lined the streets of downtown in support of a nondiscrimination ordinance on Monday evening.
Though the Billings City Council meeting wasn’t scheduled to begin until 6:30, supporters gathered on downtown sidewalks holding signs and encouraging cars to honk in support as they passed. Many drivers gave thumbs up from their cars as they drove by.
Liz Welch, the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender advocacy coordinator for the Montana ACLU, said the effort to enact a nondiscrimination ordinance in Billings has been driven by the community.
Supporters gathered in front of the First Congregational United Church of Christ, 310 N. 27th St. Their T-shirts read, "We Don't Discriminate. Vote Yes to Support a Fully Inclusive Ordinance."
Welch said that 250 shirts had been handed out and more than 75 stickers given in support of the ordinance.
As supporters gathered on the church steps, community organizer Eran Thompson yelled through a bullhorn, "You guys look amazing."
Supporter Eric Porter said he and his fiancé are tired of being treated unfairly in the community.
“We have been denied medical service,” Porter said. “Something has to change so we don’t have to be discriminated against.”
When Porter moved to Billings from a smaller town, he noticed less discrimination initially because no one knew him.
“People who are born and raised in this community don’t realize what is going on,” Porter said. “At what point to people realize how far this silliness has gone?”
He said the issue of discrimination has been in the community for a long time, but has come to light since the issue was brought forth by the city council.
“I am dumbfounded when people say that there is no discrimination within the community,” Porter said. “The community is already ripped apart. The discrimination is too much all the time.”
Randy Nelson stood across the street from the supporters of the ordinance as he voiced his opinion on traditional marriage.
“I hope that traditional marriage continues,” Nelson said. “I hope that God’s ways will be victorious.”
Nelson said he believes in Christ, but belongs to no particular denomination. He said he believes in nondiscrimination in a professional sense, but was adamant about the continuance of marriage between a man and a woman.
Another supporter of the nondiscrimination ordinance, Aaron Wallace, said that as a gay man, he believes that there should be equality within the community.
“We should be able to get a job without facing discrimination,” he said. “I want to hear what the nondiscrimination ordinance has to say without it being tabled again.”
Wallace wants to see the divide between members of the community stop as a result of the nondiscrimination ordinance.
“Division has always been here in Billings,” he said. “I hope we can see that division cease.”
Becky Bird, a member of the Billings City Council, who voted not to table the plans for a nondiscrimination ordinance, garnered loud applause from the group.