- Join Pride Foundation Scholars At Special Reception (dgsmith.org)
- Two UM students awarded prestigious scholarships (missoulian.com)
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.
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 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
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.
So proud of my friend Jamee….
So, I want to take a moment to respond to the faux gay-bashing incident that swept me (and the gay media) by storm yesterday.
Yeah, I’m angry.
I think this may have set things back a bit as far as people taking the threat to LGBTQ people seriously in the state of Montana. When someone needs the help of the police because they have been a victim of gay assault, will it be met with deep suspicion and possibly a sneer?
I’m also really worried about the kid who reported the whole thing.
I’m worried that this will ruin his life. I’m worried that this decision to report- however it was made- was possibly made under the influence. Bad decisions are made every day under the influence of drugs and alcohol. Montana is populated with an extraordinary amount of repeat DUI offenders. Our stats are not pretty. When Montana police respond to fights, domestic violence or robbery, they’re mostly alcohol related. Ask any cop. In a 2010 survey of Montana State Prison inmates, 93% had alcohol related to their crime. 93 percent. So I’m worried that an all-too-common clouded decision-making process will become a reason for retribution.
Yeah, I’m worried that the community that so quickly rallied around him will turn just as quickly against him.
I want to argue for some understanding. We don’t know the circumstances. We don’t know the reasons. We don’t know the situation. We don’t know anything- except what the police reports and press releases have told us.
I think that the concern we all had for him can be turned in a new direction- toward trying to understand- and trying to forgive. Youthful indiscretion aside, mistakes are made- and so are apologies.
When his is made, I’m going to do my damnedest to accept it.
Because I’ve made mistakes of my own.
I also know that we’re going to need to remember the response that galvanized a bunch of people around the country into action. Because, someday, we’re going to need to rally around a victim of hate, a victim of injustice, a victim of violence- and I don’t want to have suspicion be the first voice that enters my head. I want compassion to be the first voice.
And I don’t want the memory of this or any incident to overcome compassion’s voice in my heart.
That’s my prayer.
Wipeout Homophobia’s Facebook page posted photos earlier today- I can’t bear to put them up here- they’re upsetting and I don’t think I need to make the point that there are people out there who think it’s okay to beat up people they see as queer- as ‘fags’, as ‘dykes’ as ‘trannies’, as, well, whatever.
There are people everywhere who think it’s okay to do that- not just in Montana.
After the most successful Pride Celebration in Montana history, when more supporters than ever showed up for equality and to support their LGBTIQ brothers and sisters, it’s very hard to see the reality of hate and ignorance that we all have to face every day in the U.S.
It’s not just Montana. It’s not “just” anywhere. It’s everywhere.
And that’s why we can’t be silent. That’s why we need to keep standing up in the face of bullying and violence. It goes against the values of the Montana I know and love. And sadly, bullying and violence still seems to be promoted as a value in some Montana circles (yeah I’m talking about you, Tim Ravndal).
But I still believe more people have our best interest at heart than don’t. The ignoramuses just have the advantage of jumping out of dark alleys.
So, again- please- be careful out there.
Update: Police are now saying that this investigation has taken a turn- from the Missoulian:
Missoula police are examining a videotape that purports to show a young gay man injuring his face while doing a backflip.
The man reported to police that he’d been beaten up outside the Missoula Club early Sunday morning, allegedly because of his sexual orientation.
But the video shows him doing a backflip off a curb on North Higgins Avenue and smashing his face on the sidewalk as he lands.
“Until we finish the investigation, we won’t know the entire story, but it has certainly been a major development in the case,” said Missoula Police Chief Mark Muir.
I’m making no further comments until we know more.
But what I said above applies nonetheless.
Beach-themed fundraiser to raise money for Montana grants and scholarships
Join me on a Flathead Lake cruise!
Pride Foundation aims to “make waves” with the first-ever Flathead Lake Equality Cruise on Sunday, Aug. 12, 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. The boat will depart KwaTaqNuk Best Western Resort at 4 p.m. sharp, so guests are encouraged to arrive by 3:45. Tickets are $45 for individuals and $80 per couple and can be purchased online at www.pridefoundation.eventbrite.com.
Seattle-based Pride Foundation has made a big splash in Montana since hiring on-the-ground staff in 2011, sextupling the number of active donors in less than two years. Pride Foundation has increased from $19,000 to nearly $50,000 the amount of grants and scholarships given out in the state over the past year.
According to Regional Development Organizer Caitlin Copple, who is also the first openly gay member of the Missoula City Council, Montana is part of a larger national trend toward greater acceptance of people, regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity or expression.
“From the city ordinances protecting the community from non-discrimination 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 more friendly 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 in our state.”
Indeed, co-hosts for the upcoming cruise include Rep. Ellie Hill (D-Missoula) and Dr. Tyler Smith of Missoula, Cathy and Ned Cooney of Bigfork, Mary Stranahan of Arlee, and Beth Frazee, Paul Vestal, and Bryony Schwan, all of Missoula.
Special thanks to event sponsors KwaTaqNuk Resort, Mamalode Magazine, and FlatheadEvents.net. If you would like to sponsor or co-host, please contact Caitlin@pridefoundation.org.
And yep, I’m gonna be there.
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.
Donations accepted but never required!
While Missoula County is dealing with an outbreak of new cases of HIV, health officials say the situation is a lot different in Gallatin County.
Missoula County officials recently reported that the county saw 12 new documented cases of HIV in the last five months, enough to classify it as an outbreak.
However, in Gallatin County there have been only seven new cases reported in the last five years. There was one new case last year, two in 2010, three in 2009, none in 2008 and one in 2007.
“It’s nothing, thank goodness, at all like what Missoula has seen recently,” said Gallatin City-County Health Director Matt Kelley.
AIDS Outreach, a Bozeman nonprofit that offers services to people living with HIV and AIDS, estimated that about 80 people have reported living with HIV and AIDS in Gallatin County.
According to the Missoulian, all 12 new cases in Missoula involve adult men who contracted the virus through situations ranging from presumed monogamous relationships to anonymous sexual encounters.
A similar outbreak happened in Yellowstone County a year ago. Six new cases were reported in less than a month between March and April.
There still need to be a lot of people tested here, though. From what I know and understand, there are people at risk who are not getting tested or who are positive and not actively revealing their status to their partners- both gay and straight.
So get tested- and protect yourself. Asking HIV status and using condoms may keep you healthy for years to come. Not doing so may result in a lifetime of financial and social difficulty. Believe me, I know.
Testing, safe sex kits and information available at AIDS Outreach www.AIDSOutreachMT.org