HeLENA -- Katherine Haque-Hausrath has yet to take the seat that she won in the November city commission election, but an anti-discrimination ordinance for Helena, a cornerstone of her campaign, is gaining steam.

The ordinance, similar to one in place in Missoula, would protect Helenans from discrimination in housing, the workplace and public places, regardless of an individual's sexual orientation or gender identity.

Missoula's ordinance extended protection from discrimination to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender individuals. As a result, residents there who think a public accommodation, home or job is unavailable to them because of their sexual orientation or gender identity have legal recourse.

The Montana Human Rights Network's campaign for a similar ordinance in Helena is under way.

Jamee Greer, an organizer with the human rights network, said interest in a Helena's ordinance appears strong. A campaign kickoff at a Helena coffee shop in mid-November was attended by 120 people, three times as many as Missoula's campaign kickoff, Greer said. He said the event featured a local faith leader and a state senator, as well as students from Helena High's Gay-Straight Alliance. Haque-Hausrath was also there.

"There's a lot of energy and a lot of excitement here in Helena," Greer said. "It's really great to see that."

Greer said 10 faith leaders and 27 businesses have shown support for the possible ordinance. About 500 people have signed a petition supporting an anti-discrimination measure.

Marianne Niesen, pastor at St. Paul's United Methodist Church, said she became aware of the issue through the American Civil Liberties Union and the human rights network. Niesen said she supports the ordinance because it's an issue of justice.

"In the past, there have been times when these civil rights issues were around race or creed," Niesen said. "Hopefully, we've moved beyond a lot of that."

Niesen said many members of her congregation are supportive of the issue. She said that, as Christians, many advocate for basic human rights.

"I don't like the idea that we could have people living in our community who are discriminated against because of who they are," she said.

Haque-Hausrath said she's talked with Mayor Jim Smith about the procedure of getting a proposed ordinance on the commission agenda. Once she takes office, the measure will be one of her top priorities, she said.

Greer said a campaign event is scheduled from 5:30 to 7 p.m. Tuesday at Taco del Sol. The campaign aims to publicly display community support for the initiative.

He said that, as the campaign progresses, the human rights network will work with the city commission and employees to write up proposed language specific to Helena's needs.

"This isn't a one-size-fits-all kind of situation," Greer said.

 

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