Pride parade

Parade participants wait in line before the Big Sky Pride parade in downtown Billings in 2017.

Billings welcomed Big Sky Pride Weekend with applause and cheers at a rainbow-hued parade downtown. Churches, health, education, sports and community organizations showed their pride in Montanans who often have been made to feel “less than” because of who they are.

Now that the annual festivities are done, it’s up to all of us in Billings to make sure our LGBTQ neighbors are welcome every day in our city.

Montana’s human rights act declares that: The right to be free from discrimination because of race, creed, religion, color, sex, physical or mental disability, age, or national origin is recognized as and declared to be a civil right.

But the act is missing words to protect people who are discriminated against because of their sexual orientation or sexual identity. Lawmakers, such as Rep. Kelly McCarthy of Billings, have tried to include LGBTQ folks in the state human rights protections that a prohibit discrimination in employment and public accommodations. Once again, an equal protection bill died in the 2017 Legislature.

Missoula, Butte, Bozeman and Helena have enacted human rights ordinances barring discrimination people because of their sexual identity or sexual orientation.

Billings stands out as the Montana city where leaders rejected a non-discrimination ordinance. It’s been three years since our City Council killed the ordinance that would have outlawed discrimination in Billings. It aimed to protect people from being denied jobs, housing or admission to public places based on their race, disability, religion, gender, sexual orientation or sexual identity. It was the last two characteristics that caused all the controversy.

While most Billings residents welcome gay folks and respect their privacy, some persist in posting hateful comments on social media. Putting down people because of who they are or who they love is unacceptable. Montanans should “live and let live.” 

Last week Billings Mayor Tom Hanel signed a written proclamation declaring support for “civility and tolerance” and another welcoming Big Sky Pride. But neither proclamation included LGBTQ or any words specifically referring to people who aren’t heterosexuals.

Now it’s up to us individual citizens to say: Welcome to Billings, LGBTQ. We care about you.

We must say and do what must be done to protect lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer folks from discrimination, hate and violence. It’s the right thing to do. Our community is diminished when it fails to protect everyone. Let’s be everyday advocates for our LGBTQ friends, family members and neighbors.

Billings needs the talent, compassion, intelligence, energy and creativity celebrated by Big Sky Pride. We are proud that LGBTQ folks are part of our growing community.

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