HELENA, Mont. — The Helena, Mont., City Commission on Monday voted unanimously to approve an ordinance to prohibit discrimination in housing, employment and many kinds of public accommodation based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
Hundreds of the city’s residents and other concerned parties turned out to support or oppose the measure, which led the Commission to open two additional rooms to provide audio and video of the meeting.
Helena Mayor Jim Smith gave each side an hour to speak on the measure, reported the Independent Record.
Some 30 proponents of the measure, including some transgender people, spoke in their allotted hour. Fourteen people spoke against the measure in their hour, with both sides leaving many people still in line when their hour elapsed.
Opponents cited fears of expensive litigation for the city and businesses; inadequate evidence, some said, that anti-gay discrimination is a problem worthy of such a law; and giving what some called “special privileges” to some people at the expense of others.
Eight of the 14 people speaking against the measure mentioned what some called the “bathroom” or “locker room” issue — and expressed concern that pedophiles would exploit the protections for transgender people to gain access to women’s restrooms, or that transgender people themselves would cause alarm in such situations.
But an amendment to the bill approved by the Commission on Dec. 4 addressed that concern by mandating that in any place where people “ordinarily appear in the nude,” users would be required to use the facilities designated for their anatomical sex, regardless of their gender identity.
Bill Gallagher, a GOP member of the Montana Public Service Commission, warned that the city faces huge risks of expensive litigation because the ordinance is “antagonistic” to the teachings of major religions.
“I believe, and I felt the commissioners believe, that being LGBT is part of the human condition,” said Commissioner Haque-Hausrath, the measure’s sponsor. “It’s something that people cannot change, and we believe that people should not be discriminated against because of their sexual orientations.”