HELENA - About 50 Helena businesses have signed up for Open to All-Helena, an initiative aimed at increasing the visibility of LGBTQ patrons, employees and their supporters.
Kim Leighton, Pride Foundation regional development organizer, said the reaction to the project is encouraging. Leighton helped organize a rally Thursday evening at Hub Coffee to voice support for the LGBTQ community locally and nationwide.
"We're not going anywhere," Leighton told the crowd packed into the downtown eatery.
Identified by stickers featuring Helena's skyline in front of a rainbow flag, Open to All-Helena participants aim to provide a safe haven and develop policies and procedures that create a welcoming environment.
Leighton said two Helena businesses, The Painted Pot and Murry's, have updated to gender-neutral bathrooms recently.
The movement has extended to churches and other nonprofit organizations.
Thursday's gathering was spurred by news of a proposed executive order that critics say could lead to discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, gender or gender identity if it is signed by President Donald Trump.
Anna Doran, owner of Big Dipper Ice Cream, said she heard about the anticipated order on Facebook.
"I said, 'Oh hell no. You're not going to do this to my friends,'" Doran said to those gathered.
Doran said she wanted to attend the rally to offer her support as a business owner and friend.
"I love all you guys," she added.
Shalon Hastings, who owns Hub Coffee and Taco Del Sol in Helena, said she finds it an honor to have workers who are comfortable being themselves.
"Look at this amazing crowd that is here to celebrate that as well," Hastings said.