Help Still Needed to Pass SB107

Because of YOUR HELP, we made history today!
But we still need YOUR HELP to pass Senate Bill 107!
 
Dear supporter of equality:
Senate Bill 107 has passed an important hurdle! For the first time in our state’s history, a bill to repeal unconstitutional language from Montana’s code that labels gays and lesbians felons has received majority support from both chambers in the Montana Legislature.
This is big news, and reason to celebrate! But there’s still more work to be done.
SB 107 survived today’s “blast motion” carried by Rep. Bryce Bennett and will be heard during second reading on the floor of the Montana House TOMORROW: Tuesday, April 9th!
 
We need you to take a moment and contact your Representative immediately and ask them to support SB 107! Click here to email representatives in your area, or call 406-444-4800 to leave messages for up to five representatives in your area!
This bill would finally remove unconstitutional language from Montana law that labels gays and lesbians felons, punishable by fines of up to $50,000 and/or up to ten years in jail. It was ruled unconstitutional by the Montana Supreme Court in 1997, but remains on the state’s law books because of homophobia and fear.
 
We know that there are reasonable members of both parties on the floor of the Montana House who believe language criminalizing gay and lesbian relationships is wrong! Click here to see how your representative voted on today’s “blast motion” for SB 107!
 
We need you to take a moment and contact your Representative immediately and ask them to support SB 107! Click here to email representatives in your area, or call 406-444-4800 to leave messages for up to five representatives in your area!
 
Call the Capitol Switchboard at (406) 444-4800 to leave a message for up to five legislators in your area at a time.
Thank you for your continued support for equality.

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.

Better Know a Legislator: Rep. Bryce Bennett & Rep. Champ Edmunds

Last week I profiled two legislators who are diametrically opposed in their legislating philosophies, Rep. Edie McClafferty and Rep. Kris Hansen.

Today, I’ll look at the records of two Missoula legislators, Rep. Bryce Bennett (D) and Rep. Champ Edmunds (R).

Rep. Bryce Bennett, HD 92

Rep. Bryce BennettRep. Bryce Bennett will be serving his second term representing the people of the Rattlesnake area of Missoula and the Seely-Swan area. This session, Rep. Bennett will also serve as part of the leadership team as the House Democratic Caucus Chair.

When elected, Bryce became the first openly gay male elected to the Montana legislature, and because of his work in the legislature and in his regular job, he was named to Out Magazine’s Power List.

While Bryce has been a champion on LGBT issues in the state, he’s also spearheaded efforts to improve access to voting and led the charge against attempts to make it harder for Montanans, particularly students, veterans, Native Americans and seniors, to vote. He was responsible for adding to voter registration forms the option to opt in to subsequent absentee ballots.

When not serving the people of Montana, Bryce works as the Political Director at Forward Montana, a progressive organization based out of Missoula that seeks to get young people involved and make sure they have a voice in politics.

This session, Bryce will serve as the vice-chair of the State Admin committee, as well as serving on the Education and Rules committees.

You can follow Bryce on Twitter @BryceBennett.

Rep. Champ Edmunds, HD 100

Champ EdmundsWhile Rep. Champ Edmunds also comes to the legislature from Missoula, that’s where his similarities to Rep. Bryce Bennett end.

Edmunds has led many of the efforts to make voting harder for Montana students, seniors, veterans and Native Americans. Last session he introduced a bill that would end the ability to register and vote on the same day. If he were successful, he could have kept thousands of legally eligible Montanans from casting their votes.

Edmunds went even further when he accused University of Montana students of attempting to steal ballots to fraudulently cast votes.

Edmunds also extended his absurdity beyond the access to the ballot, when he was one of the few legislators to vote against honoring Montana’s Vietnam War veterans and he also voted against naming a stretch of road after a fallen State Trooper, because it was a “slippery slope” towards naming all roads after people.

In his non-legislative life, Edmunds works as a mortgage broker for Wells Fargo Bank in Missoula.

This session Edmunds will serve on the Rules Committee, as well as the Joint Appropriations Subcommittee on General Government, and perhaps the most important committee Appropriations–the committee responsible for drafting the budget.

Montana Pride 2012: It’s Not Just A Party

It’s a time for determined activism and empowerment.

This year, we’ve invited every elected official and candidate from across Montana to meet their LGBT and allied constituents at Montana Pride.

We’ve made Out Legislators Diane Sands, Christine Kaufmann, Bryce Bennett and Montana Human Rights Network organizer/lobbyist Jamee Greer our Grand Marshals. And they will be sharing their stories with Montana Public Radio’s Brian Kahn in the Bozeman Public Library after speaking at the Equality Rally on the Library Front Lawn. A Rally which will feature Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex speakers and performers.

Montana Women Vote will be registering voters during the weekend.

And we have an amazing array of workshops at the MSU SUB on Saturday starting at 3pm 

PFLAG Presents: Inclusive Language: Helping families and friends avoid hoof-in-mouth disease. How to talk about/to our LGBT loved ones and A chapter can be the first ray of sunshine in small communities and be an umbrella to connect efforts in others. Presented by Kathy Reim, PFLAG Pacific Northwest Regional Director and Cesar Hernandez, PFLAG Western Field & Policy Manager

Vagina Facebook: How to friend, things to like, status updates, and blocking creepers for your lady parts. If our vaginas had a grasp on social marketing they would pick better playmates, know all the best products, keep honest medical tabs, and hide from those unwanted pests like herpes. This workshop will use the principles of Facebook to outline 20 new lessons on vulva wellness and user sexuality. Log-on and learn.   Open session for women with doctor of human sexuality and clinical sexologist, Lindsey Doe

It’s Not Your Story Until You Tell It. Author Bobbie Zenker will present a workshop on coming out and telling your story & why it is important. She will share her experiences in writing her memoir, TransMontana, followed by a brief reading. Q&A to follow.

Talking to Churches and Faith Leaders- How Do We Start? Evangelical Christian and LGBT ally Kathy Baldock will offer some guidance and understanding about creating a conversation with Christian faith leaders. She will share her experiences in changing hearts and minds about LGBT persons in churches and faith communities. She will also address the topic of creating “open and affirming” churches.

Yeah, it’s a party, but it’s also a time to be empowered.

Because together, we’re powerful.

And it’s gonna be hard to ignore us in Montana after next weekend….

MONTANA PRIDE 2012: DETAILS!

For the second year, Bozeman will be hosting the 2012 Montana Pride Celebration on the weekend of June 15-17. Montana Pride is a statewide celebration of diversity and equality, which attracted thousands to Bozeman in 2011 for a weekend packed-full of community fun, education and celebrating diversity. The Pride Celebration is an annual event implemented and developed by the Montana Pride Network, a 501(c)3 non-profit volunteer organization with board members from across the state.

The Pride Celebration gathers local, state-wide and regional friends of the LGBTQ Community (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgendered, Intersex, Queer and Questioning) as well as the Native American Two-Spirit Society.

For 2012 Pride, Bozeman has expanded their venues and weekend activities to accommodate even greater participation and involvement. Venues include the Ballrooms at Montana State University, various business locations in Downtown Bozeman, The Bozeman Public Library and more. Pride Weekend will include a schedule of dynamic entertainment from all around the mountain west including our Friday night concert with Jessie and the Toy Boys, a Saturday morning Pride Parade on Main Street, thoughtful weekend workshops, panel discussions, music by Katie Goodman of Broad Comedy on Saturday Night, with local and regional drag talent both evenings, hosted parties and evening dances. The Bozeman planning committee continues to welcome friends of all ages and backgrounds to celebrate Pride, honesty and equality with us.

Our highly-attended Pride Parade on Main Street, Saturday morning June 16th is open for all ages to attend and/or participate, as it will be a community and family-oriented event with Grand Marshals from Montana’s own Legislature, Diane Sands, Christine Kaufmann, Bryce Bennett and from the Montana Human Rights Network, Jamee Greer. The Pride Parade will begin at West Main Street and South 3rd Ave and will end at the Bozeman Public Library Lawn, with an Equality Rally and Festival following for the whole family. Parade registration forms are available on our website, and must be completed in advance for approval.

We’re excited to have featured members of our community openly participating during Pride, which includes Electra Sexton and various Drag Performers from Montana, Christian evangelist Kathy Baldock will be presenting a vision of LGBTQ-inclusive Christianity, Roberta Zenker will be sharing excerpts and stories from her recently-published memoir, Trans-Montana and a number of talented local DJ’s will be keeping the rhythm primed at our evening dances.

Free HIV Testing will be available throughout the weekend.

Weekend General Admission passes and VIP packages are for sale online at www.montanapride.org, seating at certain weekend events will be limited so early-ticket purchases are greatly encouraged. Youth Activities for ages 15-18 have been scheduled along with our regularly planned 18+ mature audience events Friday& Saturday night, with childcare also being available during our day time activities.

In 2011 regional business and organizational sponsorships were a huge aspect of our success and gave us the ability to grant over $10K back into Montana’s growing momentum for quality and diversity. For 2012, we’d like to welcome back the support not only of our vibrant community, but also the businesses and organizations, big and small, that daily contribute so much to making Montana a beautiful place to live. Please visit our website if you or someone you know is interested in sponsoring this year’s event. The Montana Pride website also has lists of local hotels for weekend-rates, Volunteer Opportunities, and resources for our Saturday Festival.

So please save the date, mark your calendars, and JOIN us for another ground-swelling year of celebrating Pride, honesty and the pursuit of happiness in Montana.

See you there!