“I do not think Billings is ready at this time for the NDO."
--Former Mayor Tom Hanel, August 2014
Three-and-a-half years ago, former Billings Mayor Tom Hanel said that Billings wasn't ready for a non-discrimination ordinance, and in the early hours of an August meeting, cast the deciding vote against the city council adopting a non-discrimination ordinance.
In many ways what was just a little more than three years ago, seems decades away. In that time, we've seen an increase of racist and derogatory language and behavior — from swastikas on the Rims to a coffee shop that seemed to espouse white supremacist views to a rash of a fliers that say "Stop The Fags."
While we disagreed strongly with Hanel and the city council members who voted against the NDO in 2014, we can't help but ask the question: Are we ready now?
Or do we have to continue to pretend that nothing is happening here in our community while our LGBTQ brothers and sisters worry about their safety? Will we be the kind of community which makes excuses for why a church got targeted with such vile hate-group propaganda, or will we once again rise up against it and say with a single voice: Not in our town?
While the work of the crudely drawn swastikas could be the work of just a bunch of punks, its effect on those who were targeted is the same — it's terrifying and disturbing.
Even if such antics were nothing more than a couple of teenagers with a can of spray paint, then our community has the same responsibility to reiterate the message that intolerance, hate and fear aren't jokes and won't be condoned.
Events like this should again be a call to our educators and community that we need to dust off the menorahs and retell the stories of what happened in the concentration camps of Nazi Germany; how we treated our Native American brothers and sisters; and stop pretending the Civil War didn't have any connection to slavery.
If we want a brighter future, we must start by recounting the mistakes of the past.
Speaking of which, we believe the vandalism and fliers that appeared in our community deserve to be met with a strong, resolute message. We hope that our city council has changed enough, and that these events are shocking enough that the city will reconsider a non discrimination ordinance. Passing an NDO would certain help counteract the message that Billings is a backward, intolerant place.
If we want to continue to grow and thrive as well as attract the next generation of future leaders, we must say that we are a place that is big enough not just to allow or tolerate diversity, but to welcome and encourage it.
If the time to consider an NDO is not in the face of pamphlets that say, "Stop Fags," we wonder: Will there ever be a time for it?
Do we wait until — God forbid — someone is hurt or killed? Do people who are different have to be run out of town?
We are so glad to see the Not In Our Town group rise again to talk about these horrible incidents and galvanize the community into action. We are so glad that places like Grace United Methodist Church have not only become a safe place for diversity, but that they also met the challenge head on, not becoming afraid to take a stand in midst of intolerance that hides behind anonymity.
They have set an example by not only praying for the community, but for those who specifically would vandalize the church and distribute this hate-filled literature.
Billings, we are better than this. We show it not by meeting intolerance with intolerance, but by ensuring that justice is available to everyone, regardless.