Bozeman Non-Discrimination Ordinance Vote
Now taking place Monday, May 12th at 5pm
Bozeman City Hall
121 N. Rouse Street
Bozeman, MT 59715
It’s still very important that we show support, so
grab friends, family, coworkers and we’ll see you there…
Be at the City Hall hearing room by 5:30pm to show your support! Here’s my testimony:
I am a native Montanan (4th generation).
I am an ordained priest with 3 degrees in theology and scripture.
I am a licensed Mental Health Counselor.
I am also a gay man, and Bozeman is my home.
Despite the prejudice and discrimination I have experienced in Bozeman, I choose to live here. Despite the stories and concerns I hear from parishioners and counseling clients who are Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender- I choose to live here. Why? Mostly, because I am now an adult, and I am supported and loved by my family, friends, neighbors and my church.
And I want to ensure that no kid repeats my Montana childhood here. Not anymore.
As a 15 year-old, I attempted suicide because my church and my community called me “disordered”, “unnatural” and a “pervert”. Not to my face- but they didn’t have to. The climate of my community and church and school – where there were no protections against discrimination- did it for them.
I think we forget how sensitive kids are.
But if nothing else happens tonight- I want you to remember just how sensitive kids are.
Thankfully, my suicide attempt failed, but every time I see the obituary of a teenager, I wonder, “Did sexuality have anything to do with this? My God, did a church have a part in this”?
I’m reminded of this verse from Matthew (18.6): “Whoever causes one of these little ones to lose faith in me, it would be better for them to have a great millstone hung around their neck and drowned in the depths of the sea.”
Well, the behavior of discriminatory churches is causing a lot of these little ones to lose their faith.
I know. I’m one of the ones they call, in tears and pain, wondering how they can be a Christian if God hates them so much. They wonder what they did.
They did nothing.
And I always tell them God loves them very much- even if God’s people don’t seem to.
Sexuality is NOT a choice. It is a fact. Gender is NOT a choice. It is a fact.
We have to trust the experience of others to help us to see them clearly.
WE HAVE TO.
That’s what civil societies do. We encourage people to tell the truth about themselves- because it sets them free- and maybe the rest of us as well.
This ordinance provides Bozeman with a chance to speak loudly in favor of truth.
Allowing even the perceived sexuality or gender of a child- or an adult- to be the cause of bullying, pain- or even suicide is inexcusable.
It still happens. Right here. There are too many examples to list in the available time.
If any of you would like to speak to me about it, I am available.
Please pass this ordinance.
Once upon a time, there was a boy who grew up in a small town- in a time when things were said to be simple- but they were not.
He was unlike the other kids in ways that weren’t always noticeable to the people around him. He felt things a bit more keenly. He noticed things that other kids didn’t. He wasn’t great at sports, he wasn’t big and strong.
But he was smart.
And sometimes that meant he got picked on even more than other kids.
So he used that.
It made him tough. His parents were good, loving people. His church provided comfort. His books helped him escape.
Maybe it was God, maybe it was chance- it doesn’t really matter what made him different. He just was.
The fact remained that this boy- indistinguishable from a million other little boys- just wanted to be loved, even though he was different.
And when he grew up, he still wanted to be loved – sometimes desperately. Sometimes he trusted people who weren’t trustworthy- simply because the promise of love is often enough to make us overlook danger and potential tragedy.
The promise of love.
That’s what brings us here today.
That’s why I got infected. That’s how I got infected.
The promise of love. Not what you think about when you think of AIDS.
But I want you to think about it.
When I moved back to Montana almost seven years ago, I made a promise: that no gay kid would ever be so starved for love and support- would not be so handicapped by shame- that they couldn’t stay here and have a happy, successful, healthy and safe life if they wanted to. I would do everything in my power to make it happen.
So I came out as gay- and HIV positive- just to show that there is no shame in having a disease. It’s a virus, it’s not a judgment.
A microscopic being that happens to live in my body. And I want to keep it from living in any one else’s.
And so do you, I hope.
This disease has been around for over three decades. And yet the state of Montana has never allocated state funds for its prevention. Not a penny.
Which begs the question- why?
Is it because of the shame at how the disease is transmitted?
Is it because we might have to talk about sex, needles, addiction and shame and fear?
Isn’t thirty two years long enough to avoid having this hard conversation?
In the Montana that little boy grew up in- that I grew up in- we prided ourselves on helping out where it was needed. We filled sandbags, we stopped when it looked like people were in trouble on the road, we ran to the fire house when the siren rang.
But not for HIV. Not for AIDS. Well, let me correct that.
A few very brave people did stand up. They braved ridicule and stigma to hold candlelight vigils and to hold the hands of people whose parents were too afraid to touch them. I know. I was there. I held some of those hands. And so did Laurie Kops and probably a few others in this room.
I’m not trying to toot my own horn here, but it’s important that we get back to something very basic here in the state of Montana.
Caring for our people.
It’s time to recognize that all people deserve the promise of love in their lives. Deserve the dignity and respect that I believe God gives everyone simply by being born. Deserves the respect of having information and materials at their disposal provided by the state that is charged with enabling public health and well-being. It’s what I want out of my taxes- I hope it’s what you want from yours.
There are a few legislators here you can tackle on the way out….
My life is good. I have family that love me, a partner who is always there for me and more friends than any man ever deserves.
But it could be better.
Somewhere in the state of Montana there is a kid who doesn’t believe that he’s worthy of love.
And he’s part of our responsibility. Because he does deserve love. And he deserves help to be healthy about it.
Shame is keeping us from health.
Kinda crazy, isn’t it?
It’s time to have those hard conversations.
It’s time to stop shame in its tracks.
It’s time to return the promise of love to all Montanans.
Thank you for listening- and for this awesome award.
- Capitol rotunda ceremony honors AIDS Day award recipients (billingsgazette.com)
- 5 honored at Montana Capitol for AIDS work (missoulian.com)
- 5 honored at Montana Capitol for AIDS work (ravallirepublic.com)
- 5 Montanans to be honored on World AIDS Day (missoulian.com)
The Montana Board of Regents unanimously approved the addition of sexual orientation and gender identity to the Montana University System’s non-discrimination policy.
The policy change will affect all campuses within the MUS and provide protection to staff, faculty, and students, according to a press release on Monday.
Clayton Christian, the MT Commissioner of Higher Education, said, “That is our hope that we send the right message that they are welcome and embraced and part of our overall state community, one that certainly has open doors and welcoming doors for the Montana University System.”
- Murkowski Votes With Democrats to Advance Bill Forcing Private Employers in 33 States to Hire Homosexual Applicants (ENDA) (joemiller.us)
- US Senate committee approves LGBT employment law (jurist.org)
- Ban on LGBT workplace discrimination finally heads to full Senate (rawstory.com)
Thanks so much for your support of the registry. I’m happy to report that it passed unanimously last night at Council. Your email made a big difference. I’ll be in touch with how you can register once we solidify the timeline with the Clerk’s office…hopefully we’ll be up and running Aug. 1.
- Why the Missoula Registry Matters (dgsmith.org)
- Missoula considers registry that would help same-sex partners (billingsgazette.com)
So, I know it’s been a while since I have written a blog post. Things have been very crazy in my world and they are just starting to settle down. I have been, somewhat, politically and socially active, but I haven’t really had the chance to write.
Fortunately, with most of this behind me, my time has opened up and you are going to be able to enjoy my snarky sense of humor!! My goodness, how I’ve missed all of you!
I have recently been involved in a court case. I’m not going to go into the details just now. That is for a later couple of blogs. I am also writing a book about that. Suffice to say, it wasn’t me that was in trouble. However, there are some things that have really opened my eyes as to the issue of equality for LGBTQI people here in the State of Montana.
I was told to shy away from the relationship aspect as the courts tend to be somewhat paternalistic in regard to LGBT relationships. It is better not to mention them. Why is that, I wonder? Just doesn’t seem really fair. And, that means that trials and hearings tend to move down a different path. Yuck. It’s glaringly obvious that we need marriage equality.
There are things that are taken for granted and things that are just naturally assumed for straight marriages, but those things are not just assumed for LGBT relationships. This is a problem. It’s just another area where we are left outside and we are somehow “different” and our relationships are somehow “different” than other people.
There are many reasons to promote marriage equality and this is just one of them. But, having it so close to home reminds me of how far we have yet to go.
My partner and I have tossed around the idea of heading down to Colorado, or possibly Washington to marry, but then we decided that we are probably going to hold on and fight for our home state. It may take a while. We want the legal recognition, but we also want to do this where our home is.
Montana has taken a step in the right direction by striking down language that would make us felons, but at the same time, there’s a long way to go. In the meantime, we will probably go through the proper legal channels in order to secure some of our rights. Although, with what we’ve seen in the news lately, that may not necessarily help. But here’s hoping.
Anyhow, since I’m back, I’m prepping a few other blog posts to go up. Hopefully, you all will enjoy!
- Why the Missoula Registry Matters (dgsmith.org)