Why the Missoula Registry Matters

by Caitlin Copple

Tonight, Missoula’s City Council will vote to establish a domestic partnership registry open to same-sex couples across the Treasure State. But let’s be honest, domestic partnership registry doesn’t sound very sexy.  It doesn’t carry as much weight as full marriage equality, or even civil unions at the state level. So why even do it?

Let me be clear: No one should settle for mere city-level domestic partnership recognition. I’m certainly not going to. That’s why I hope you will join me in continuing to support these great organizations working on non-discrimination ordinances in Montana cities (www.mhrn.org, www.forwardmontana.org, http://www.fairisfairmontana.org) as well as statewide relationship recognition through the newly refiled Donaldson v. Montana case (www.aclumontana.org).

So if full marriage equality and non-discrimination is what LGBT Montanans and our allies really want, why bother with this little domestic partnership registry in Missoula? Does it even matter? Yep, and here’s why:

  1.  It’s called an LGBT movement for a reason. We can and should be moving forward at every level of our democracy until LGBT Montanans are treated equally under the law and our families are valued and respected in our culture – From Missoula to Miles City.  Incremental and inadequate as a registry may seem, it is an important step on the path to full equality.
  2. It sends a message to the State of Montana that cities will do everything they can for LGBT residents despite discriminatory laws. Municipal domestic partnership registries are proven to pave the way for more meaningful statewide change. We’ve seen this in the 58 other cities across 23 states, many which lacked any relationship recognition prior to the establishment of a local registry. You know how Minnesota defeated a ballot initiative to ban same-sex marriage last fall, and how their legislature just passed marriage equality this session? Well, before any of that happened, Rochester and Minneapolis were leading the way by recognizing all families at the city level. This is not a coincidence.
  3.  Municipal domestic partnership registries help same-sex partners get health insurance coverage, as well as better treatment from first responders and hospitals. It’s not a replacement for statewide mandates or getting an advanced medical directive (Click here to make sure you have all your bases covered: http://www.hrc.org/resources/entry/protecting-your-visitation-decision-making-rights). However,  Cathryn Oakley, director of the Municipal Equality Index project at HRC (her aunt lives in Billings – love that!) has provided me with countless examples of how this is happening in cities with registries across the country.  The wallet card offers proof for employers that want to do the right thing despite bad state law, and something that emergency and hospital personnel can point to in your time of need.

Here’s a link to the text of the Missoula resolution that will govern how the registry operates: http://missoula.siretechnologies.com/sirepub/cache/2/najfwbk13nw4n5achjhsqw54/7845907152013011316448.PDF. It’s open to all Montana couples.  Let the council know you support this effort by emailing us at council@ci.missoula.mt.us.

Remember, this registry is completely voluntary, and it is public information under state law, so if it’s not for you, don’t sign up. Coming out is always a risk, and as LGBT people, we make the decision every day about how out we want to be at work, at school, to our families and our faith communities. This is one more way that couples who want to can come out as domestic partners, and get at least some of the recognition and dignity they deserve, at least at the city level. It’s not perfect, but it’s a start. Together, by advocating at every level of our democracy, we can bring equality to all Montanans and our families.

“Unacceptable Levels” Tonight at The Emerson

Women’s Voices for the Earth is proud to host the Montana premier of “Unacceptable Levels,” on Wednesday, June 26th at the Emerson Theater in Bozeman. Doors open at 7:00pm; Program begins at 7:30pm. Admission is free.

Evening Details.

This evening screening will host families, educators, small business owners, and community leaders alike in premiering one of the most innovative and exposing documentaries ever made on the role of chemicals in our modern-­‐day lives. Following the film will be a short panel discussion, in which WVE is honored to host the filmmaker, Ed Brown (Los Angeles); WVE Executive Director, Erin Switalski (Missoula); Richard Eidlin, of the American Sustainability Business Council (Denver); and business and individual community representatives from Bozeman.

About the Film.

Unacceptable Levels is an innovative documentary that opens a dialog about the effects of chemicals in everyday products on the environment and on our bodies. The film dissects the lack of regulatory oversight of industrial chemicals in consumer goods — from cosmetics to household cleaning products to industrial farming — and inspires consumers to push for changes that protect us all.

Shot and edited almost entirely by independent filmmaker, Ed Brown, it is the result of three years of arduous travel and research. “I made this movie because I couldn’t ignore the effects of chemicals on my family. I had to find out more,” said Ed Brown. The interplay of facts and personal history is central to the success of Unacceptable Levels as a film and an educational tool, combining the weight of expert interviewees with the universality of family.

Unacceptable Levels comes at a time when growing awareness of chemicals on human and environmental health has met a stronger call for safer products and regulatory legislative efforts. Montana is a leader in this movement, with two of our own senators co-­‐sponsoring the Safe Chemicals Act: a bill reintroduced to the Senate this spring to patch gaping regulatory holes in the only existing chemical legislation, Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA).

About Women’s Voices for the Earth.

Based in Missoula, Montana, Women’s Voices for the Earth (WVE) is a national organization that works to eliminate toxic chemicals that harm women’s health by changing consumer behaviors, corporate practices and government policies. WVE is proud to call Montana home, where recently we secured co-­‐ sponsorship from our two Senators – Tester and Baucus – for the Safe Chemicals Act that passed it through the Senate Sub-­‐Committee last year, effectively taking the first step to amend toxic substances legislation in over 50 years.


Montana-based nonprofit to host film + discussion June 26 at the Emerson

By Caitlin Copple

From nearby mine tailings to the products we use every day on our skin, Montanans are part of an uncontrolled chemical experiment on our bodies.  An award-winning documentary film is partnering with a national nonprofit to bring the story of the chemical burden all people carry to Bozeman.

“Unacceptable Levels” will show at 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, June 26, at the Emerson Theater, located at 111 S. Grand in Bozeman. This event is free and will include a post-film panel discussion. Panelists include Erin Switalski of Women’s Voices for the Earth, Richard Eidlin of the American Sustainable Business Council, and two special guests from the Bozeman area. The idea from the film came from Brown’s experience with his wife as they struggled to become parents.

“I was drinking a glass of water one night at a restaurant where I was working,” Brown said. “There was one thing about it I noticed right away. We’re supposed to drink eight glasses of water a day, but this thing smelled and tasted like a swimming pool. I thought, ‘How could this possibly be okay?’ Then I read that there are ‘acceptable levels’ of chlorine and other contaminants in water. I forgot about it until my wife had her second miscarriage, and that’s when my mind went back to that glass of water. I started thinking, what could conceivably be in that?”

According to Women’s Voices for the Earth, the national organization hosting the event, the average person carries some 200 chemicals in his or her body on any given day. Those chemicals can include hormone disruptors, allergens, and cancer-causing chemicals – and we’re exposed to them from some surprising sources. Women and small children are disproportionately affected by toxic chemical exposure, explains Erin Switalski, executive director of Women’s Voices for the Earth. Switalski will be sharing ways people can avoid these scary chemicals, as well as become involved in convincing the government and corporate conglomerates to eliminate them in household products.

“Unacceptable Levels” examines the results of the chemical revolution of the 1940s through the eyes a father seeking to understand the world in which he and his wife are raising their children. Through interviews with the top minds in the fields of science, advocacy, and law, Brown presents us with the story of how the chemical revolution brought us to where we are, and of where, if we’re not vigilant, it may take us. Learn more at www.unacceptablelevels.com.

Women’s Voices for the Earth is a national organization that works to eliminate toxic chemicals that harm women’s health by changing consumer behaviors, corporate practices and government policies. To learn more, visit www.womensvoices.org.


TransMSU Promotes Inclusion in Bozeman and Montana State University

Cassidy Medicine Horse is a Pride Foundation supporter and founder of TransMSU, a new group at Montana State University in Bozeman. **Photo courtesy of the Bozeman Chronicle

Cassidy Medicine Horse is a Pride Foundation supporter and founder of TransMSU, a new group at Montana State University in Bozeman.
**Photo courtesy of the Bozeman Chronicle

By Caitlin Copple

Being trans can be a challenge anywhere, but it’s especially tough in Montana, as there are no statewide nondiscrimination protections for gender identity, including at Montana State University. A coalition of student organizations is working to change this, including TransMSU (TMSU) a support group for transgender MSU students.

Founded by graduate student Cassidy Medicine Horse, the group came into being after Medicine Horse was invited to talk about barriers to the community to the MSU student senate.

Despite Bozeman’s reputation for being a fairly liberal college town, Cassidy explains that prejudices exist when it comes to bathrooms, showers, dorms, and health care providers. Even though the school is receptive to hormone therapy coverage, it’s common for insurance carriers to exclude it from their prescription formulary. Cassidy adds that, to her knowledge, there are only three therapists and as many doctors in the Bozeman area who treat trans individuals.

Navigating these barriers while also going through a major life and identity transition was extremely difficult for Medicine Horse, and she started TransMSU to ensure other transitioning would have a built-in support network.

“Transitioning can be, at the very least, a lonely time,” she says. “Sometimes it can be filled with self-recrimination, self-loathing, anger, and great loss of family and friends.”

Beyond support, Medicine Horse hopes the group will provide a place for trans advocacy and increased visibility of the community, as they have with the efforts to add gender identity and expression to the Montana University System bylaws.

“What I am truly hoping for is that trans as a paradigm of the ‘other’ will cease to exist,” she says. “Sometimes I joke, half-heartedly, that I don’t want people just to come out of the closet. I want them to burn the closet down. The fact that a person is transgendered or transsexual should be about as interesting as whether you had mustard on your last sandwich. To be transgendered is not about sex. It is not about being homosexual or straight. It is about identity.”

Until then, she and TransMSU are partnering with the Montana Human Rights Network, a longtime Pride Foundation grantee, to work for equal protections for all Bozeman residents.

“Cassidy’s work to establish TMSU is essential to helping fill a gap as LGBTQ policy work moves forward in Bozeman,” said Jamee Greer, LGBT organizer for the Montana Human Rights Network. “It shows trans Bozemanites that they belong here, and also helps educate cisgender* folks around why trans inclusion matters.”

“Bozeman is a great little town with great folks,” adds Medicine Horse. “It’s time that we stand next to Missoula and Helena and give an additional voice to the concept of equality.”

When asked how people can be better allies to trans people, she shared:

  1. Learn the correct use of pronouns. If you don’t know, ask respectfully about pronoun preference.
  2. Don’t out us, and don’t use “bio” or “real” when referring to trans folks. If you need to designate, use “cis” or, better yet, how about referring to us just as a “person.”
  3. Do not ask me what my “real” name is or whether I have had had the surgery. It is, frankly, no one else’s business.
  4. Don’t automatically identify trans people as homosexual. Again, it’s not your concern and has nothing to do with being transgendered. Recognize that not all people fit into a nice little binary world of gender identification.
  5. Speak out when you hear pejorative remarks about trans people.

Currently, TMSU has 23 members, and the group welcomes trans, MtF, FtM, intersex, questioning, students, faculty, local residents, spouses, and supporters. The group meets weekly on Monday nights on the MSU campus from 5:30 to 7:00 p.m.

*A cisgender person is someone who identifies as the gender/sex they were assigned at birth.  The colloquial use of cisgender suggests that it is the opposite of transgender.

Caitlin Copple is Pride Foundation’s Regional Development Organizer in Montana.

Montana Celebrates MLK Day with Pride Foundation Support

Past ‘I am Billings’ community photo courtesy of Not in Our Town Billings

Past ‘I am Billings’ community photo courtesy of Not in Our Town Billings


Several Montana cities are planning Martin Luther King Day celebrations with support from Pride Foundation’s sponsorship program.

In Missoula, the National Coalition Building Institute (NCBI) helps facilitate the community planning committee that has put on the January 21st event for years. This year, festivities begin with a rally at 5 p.m. at Caras Park with live drumming by Ben Coral. The rally will conclude with a candle-lit march for racial justice to the St. Paul Lutheran Church (202 Brooks St.) by 6 p.m. Montana Human Rights Network organizer Jamee Greer will deliver the keynote address this year, followed by dancing by the St. Ignatius Dance Troupe from the Flathead Indian Reservation.

In Helena, the Montana Human Rights Network will host their annual Lobby Day at the Capitol, beginning at 9:30 a.m. Email Jamee Greer at jamee@mhrn.org to sign up by this Friday. After a day of talking with legislators, you’ll deserve some fun! Head over to the Myrna Loy Center to reflect on the passage of the Helena Non-Discrimination Ordinance and discuss what still needs to be done to achieve King’s dream in the Queen City. The celebration will include food, beverages, conversation, and several short films with a social justice theme. The films start at 4 p.m., with the celebration to follow at 5:30. Montana Human Rights Network is a longtime grantee of Pride Foundation.

Not in Our Town-Billings will play a major role in their community’s multi-day celebration with sponsorship support from Pride Foundation, Yellowstone AIDS Project, Grace United Methodist Church, Montana State University-Billings, and current board chair and Pride Foundation volunteer Eran Thompson.

Events in Billings kick off Wednesday, January 16, with the Bahai Community’s free presentation titled, “The Purpose of Justice: Unity” at the Doll Museum, located at 3206 6th Ave. North.

On Friday, January 18, the Bahai faith and Not in Our Town come together to host indigenous performer Kevin Locke (Tokeya Inajin in Lakota), internationally known for his Northern Plains flute playing, traditional storytelling, visionary hoop dancing, and cultural knowledge. The free performance is at 7:00 PM and the location is TBD. Call 406-839-6734 for details.

On Saturday, January 19, is the 3rd Annual “I Am Billings” Community Photo. Join diverse friends, family, and neighbors of every race, religion, creed, sexual orientation, and gender identity in the spirit of the Martin Luther King holiday. Participants should meet at 1 p.m. at the Pioneer Park near the northeast tennis courts.

“The real reason we do the MLK community photo is because we want to give folks a chance to come together and enjoy being a community,” Thompson explained. “It is an opportunity to come with neighbors, family friends, and strangers. It doesn’t matter their color, religion, sexual orientation or gender identity – we are all together to say we are a part of this community.”

After you’ve warmed up from the photo, head over to the Billings Food Bank at 2112 4thAve. North at 6 p.m. for the annual Martin Luther King soul food dinner and fundraiser hosted by the Black Heritage Foundation. Tickets are $10.  Call Melvin Terry at 690-3644 or email chair@bhfbillings.org for tickets or more information.

On Sunday, Jan. 20, the celebration continues in Billings with an interfaith service at 3 p.m. at First United Congregational Church, 310 North 27th Street. Not in Our Town’s own Eran Thompson will deliver a Martin Luther King Jr. sermon apropos to the theme, and there will be readings and music from the many faiths.

The MSU-Billings campus ushers in the actual holiday, Jan. 21, with a bell-ringing ceremony at 9:45 a.m., at the corner of Rimrock and Normal Aves. Afterward, there will be a march to the Student Union building followed by speakers and entertainment.

More candlelight vigil and marching fun will ensue at 6:00 PM on the Yellowstone County Courthouse lawn, 217 North 27th.  After a short program, this Black Heritage Foundation group moves to the Lincoln Center, 415 North 30th, for the 7:00 PM celebration, featuring a keynote by civil rights leader Dr. Charles McDew.

Caitlin is Pride Foundation’s Regional Development Organizer in Montana. Email Caitlin.


Pride Foundation Scholar Helps Draft Montana Civil Unions Bill

Beth Burman Frazee, Rep. Ellie Hill (D-Missoula) and Paul Vestal, and it is from Ellie’s swearing in ceremony during the 2011 Montana Legislature.

Pride Foundation supporters, Beth Burman Frazee, Rep. Ellie Hill (D-Missoula) and scholar Paul Vestal at Hill’s swearing-in ceremony for legislators.

Paul Vestal received a scholarship from Pride Foundation last year to help him pursue a career as an attorney. His passion for civil rights issues made him a standout in the highly competitive process. And Paul is already giving back to the community who supported him by drafting a bill to allow civil unions for same-sex couples in Montana. The bill will be introduced during the upcoming Legislature in Helena.

A third year law student at the University of Montana, Paul enrolled in a legislative drafting class last fall. It was taught by David Aronofsky, former University of Montana legal counsel, Mike Halligan, former legislator turned director of the Dennis & Phyllis Washington Foundation, and John Bennion, who serves as counsel to the Montana Chamber of Commerce.

“I went in knowing what I wanted to do,” Paul said. “I decided to go the civil unions route due to our constitutional ban on marriage equality for same sex couples. Even though it may die, I feel something like this should be presented every session. If we are silent, nothing will happen.”

Paul’s good friend and Pride Foundation supporter, Representative Ellie Hill (D-Missoula), is co-sponsoring the bill, along with Pride Foundation Leadership Action Team member and first openly gay man to serve in the Legislature, Representative Bryce Bennett (D-Missoula).

“Equal access to civil unions was not pursued last legislative session, and it probably would not have been introduced this upcoming session, if not for the courage and academic fortitude of Pride Foundation scholar and Montana law student, Paul Vestal,” Hill said.

The Montana Legislature hasn’t seen a civil union bill come up since 2009. Paul is hopeful the “conservative angle” he tried to take in crafting the bill will help give this version a longer life than past efforts.

“It’s not to amend the marriage code,” he explained. “My rationale going into this was to create a new chapter rather than even touching marriage. I tried to stay away from associating it with marriage as much as possible. There’s a bigger tent for folks who support the rights associated with marriage but don’t want to change marriage.”

While this tactic may not please all activists in the movement, Paul says it’s not the liberals and the LGBTQ community that need convincing, it’s the conservatives.

“When we go at it as human rights or gay rights, it falls on deaf ears,” he said. “Opponents of equality know all the arguments at this point. I tried to address how the bill will be aligned with some of their own libertarian beliefs, such as keeping government out of people’s lives, the need for equal property rights, that you can transfer your property to your person. Equal protection is still a big part of it.”

Paul said he also hopes that legislators will see that the writing is on the wall in terms of marriage equality. Passing this bill could pre-empt future challenges, especially if the U.S. Supreme Court decides the so-called Defense of Marriage of Act (DOMA) or Proposition 8 court cases in ways that favor equal marriage rights. For example, Paul wonders what will happen when same sex couples in Missoula drive three hours to Spokane, Washington to get a marriage license. What will that mean for jointly owned property and paying taxes in Montana?

“I would ask [opponents], do you want to be like New Jersey and have equality come down from the court, or do you want to draft a Montana solution that would actually strengthen the ban more because it would give equal access without changing marriage.”

Paul will graduate this spring and hopes to stay in Missoula, where he will continue to be involved in nonprofits and politics, regardless of the type of law he decides to practice. He also is considering working as a lobbyist.

Tim Sweeney, Kris Hermanns to Attend Billings Pride Foundation Benefit

 Leaders from two of the nation’s largest gay rights funders will help raise money for students and organizations in Montana at a fundraiser at Corby Skinner’s historic “Castle” on Friday, January 25 from 5:30 – 7:30 p.m. Kris Hermanns, the Executive Director of the Pride Foundation, and Tim Sweeney, CEO and President of the Gill Foundation, will speak about the state of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender equality movement in Montana and the impact of recent marriage equality wins in the region.

Sweeney, a Billings native and graduate of the University of Montana, joined the Gill Foundation as executive director in October 2007, bringing three decades of leadership experience in the movement to advance equality for all Americans. Prior to joining Gill Foundation, Sweeney worked to build national efforts to support the rights of lesbian and gay couples to civil marriage and provided support for organizations implementing a California law that safeguards the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender students.

From 1986 to 1993, Sweeney led the Gay Men’s Health Crisis, helping to build the largest community-based HIV/AIDS service, prevention, and advocacy organization in the world. Under his leadership, the organization formed a national coalition to press Washington to pass antidiscrimination legislation. Working with allies, they secured passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Ryan White Care Act.

Hermanns is a self-described “country girl” from rural Wisconsin, with nearly two decades’ experience and expertise as a program manager, fundraiser, and nonprofit administrator. Before joining Pride Foundation last year, she was the deputy director at the National Center for Lesbian Rights. Prior to that, she was a program officer with The Rhode Island Foundation, where she created Equity Action, a field-of-interest fund for LGBTQ concerns, and developed the grantmaking program for the Women’s Fund of Rhode Island. Hermanns earned a master’s degree from Harvard University and a B.A. in political science from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. In addition to her professional work, Kris served on the board of directors of Funders for LGBTQ Issues and is a partial owner of the Green Bay Packers of the National Football League.

Skinner, a Pride Foundation volunteer, will provide appetizers and beverages in the “Castle,” located at 622 N. 29th St.  The event is free, but donations to support Pride Foundation’s grants and scholarships in Montana are encouraged.

Seattle-based Pride Foundation has made a big splash in Montana since hiring on-the-ground staff two years ago. There are now six times as many donors in the state, and an active statewide board that includes Shelley Hayes of the Billings Clinic and Aaron Browning, principal at Hilltop Public Solutions. Last month, Pride Foundation awarded $23,000 in grant funds to ten Montana organizations, including Billings-based Yellowstone AIDS Project and TAP 365.

According to Montana Regional Development Organizer Caitlin Copple, Montana is part of a larger national trend toward greater acceptance of people, regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity or expression.

“From the inclusive non-discrimination ordinances in Missoula and Helena to the increase in the number of high school Gay-Straight Alliances around the state to the changes in both the Republican and Democratic Party platforms, Montana is rapidly becoming a friendlier place for gays and lesbians,” Copple said. “Most importantly, more of our heterosexual family, friends, and colleagues are also ‘coming out’ as supporters of full equality for all Montanans.”

Founded in 1985, Pride Foundation is dedicated to inspiring a culture of generosity to connect and strengthen organizations, leaders, and students who are creating LGBTQ equality across the Northwest states of Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Oregon and Washington. To learn more, visit www.pridefoundation.org or email Caitlin@pridefoundation.org.