Bullock On Bozeman’s NDO Passage: “I urge other MT communities to follow suit”

Governor Bullock released the following statement on the City of Bozeman passing an ordinance prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity in employment, housing, and public accommodations:

“Tonight, Bozeman has shown important leadership in protecting their residents and visitors from discrimination. Discrimination is bad for the state’s economy and businesses, as well as contrary to the freedoms we expect as Montanans. I encourage other Montana communities to follow suit in the near future.”

The NDO passed unanimously with all commissioners and Mayor Krauss voting- Deputy Mayor Carson Taylor was absent, but since he introduced the measure, I’m calling it unanimous.

It was a bit anticlimactic. No one spoke during public comment time, and no visible opponents could be identified in the crowd. However, there were at least 40 members of the community visibly wearing “Support Fairness Dignity Security” stickers. I sat with some veteran activists- and there were a few tears- but mostly this was as expected. Bozeman is a welcoming community and recognizes that fairness and dignity are vital components of community structure.

So. Billings.

Are you willing to put the economic future of your city at the mercy of fundamentalist hysteria?

If so, just watch Bozeman take over as the leading economic force in the state….

 

Making A Difference In Montana: Interchange Kickstarter Campaign is Here!

 

Interchange Kickstarter is now live. Show your support now!
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Whether you’re able to financially support Interchange or are still considering, know that our festival moves forward each year, evolving with the changing issues of human rights and equality.

But when you take that extra step with tangible support, you help Interchange set new standards for creativity and continue to share progressive ideas by standing up- and standing proud.

Supporting Interchange shows you care about the important challenges we champion- ending social trauma and creating human equality.
Starting right here.
Right now.
Inner change + Outer change = Interchange

PLEDGE NOW AND SHOW YOUR SUPPORT!

BZN NDO 2NITE!

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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.

 

Thank you.

LGBTIQA In Montana- What’s It Like?

The Human Rights Campaign wants to know- and I want Montana to be clearly and substantially represented. It took me 10 minutes. And you don’t have to be from Montana to take it- it’s nationwide.

Take the survey HERE.

Or here:

http://lgbtexperiences.cloudssi.com/cgi-bin/ciwweb.pl?studyname=HRC_MEMBERSHIP_LGBT_POLL&ID&hid_pagenum=1&hid_link=1&hid_javascript=1

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MT World AIDS Day Award Acceptance Speech

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.

For him.

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.

ALL 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.

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2013 World AIDS Day honorees Stephanie Cole, Chris Gehring, Chantz Thilmony, Greg Smith Lisa Fairman with Gov Bullock and DPHHS Director Opper

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Me and a really cool Governor

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“Pints With Purpose” to Benefit AIDS Outreach

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This Monday November 11, proceeds benefit AIDS Outreach!

Where: Bridger Brewing, 1609 S. 11th Ave in the Town and Country Center

Dedicated to empowering people and communities affected by HIV through testing, prevention, support and education. AIDS Outreach serves Gallatin, Park and Madison Counties, Montana. 

Pride Foundation: An Investment In Montana’s Future

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You may have noticed that I’m a big fan of the Pride Foundation.

I’d like to explain why.

When I was growing up in Montana in the 70′s, there were no resources for kids like me- no gay role models, no resources, no way for me to combat the prevalent message that I was deformed, debilitated or disordered. I just assumed that I was. It’s a painful way to live. In fact, it was so painful I attempted suicide.

I survived.

Some of our kids haven’t.

When I moved back to Montana as a reasonably well-adjusted gay man, I made myself a promise: I would do everything in my power to make sure that kids growing up here would have role models and support and resources to stand against the messages of hate and bigotry that still find a place in our culture.

Pride Foundation is a big part of that for me.

When I worked at Seattle Counseling Service, Pride Foundation was a major supporter of our mental health and substance abuse work with LGBTIQ and HIV-infected people. They are proud partners in creating community health. That makes Pride Foundation a natural partner for my life goals as a gay man in Montana. Pride Foundation has made it a point to create a culture of giving and support for organizations and individuals to create safe and sustaining places for LGBTIQ people- and our allies- in Montana, Idaho, Alaska, Oregon and Washington. Creating better and more inclusive communities for all.

Since 1985, Pride Foundation has given more than $39 million dollars to thousands of organizations and scholars across the Pacific Northwest.

If you’ve been looking for a way to be involved, here’s your chance. Volunteers serve on grant and scholarship review teams, work at local events and provide important input for our mission in every state across the region.

And, if you’re looking to get an amazing return on your philanthropic dollar, I hope you’ll consider a gift that will keep on giving for decades to come.

I currently serve- with Shelley Hayes from Billings- as one of Montana’s Pride Foundation Board Members. I’m also the Pride Foundation Montana Leadership Action Team Chair, and I’m doing everything in my power to ensure that Pride Foundation’s generous culture of philanthropy and stewardship continues to benefit Montanans and LGBTIQ persons in the Pacific Northwest for years to come.

I’d like you to join me.

Here’s the Pride Foundation donor link. It’s very easy. Ken and I give $50 every month- and it’s simply taken from our debit card. Plus, for every dollar you give to Pride Foundation over $3.00 comes back to Montana! That’s unheard of in this day and age.

https://www.pridefoundation.org/giving/give-online/

  •  All donations from Montanans stay in Montana supporting grants and scholarships here.
  • For every $1 raised in MT last year, $3.80 came back to the state.
  • Caitlin has driven over 10,000 miles since being hired as the first staff on the ground two years ago.
  • We’ve given away nearly $500,000 in Montana total, including nearly $50,000 this past year.  

We plan to award even more this next year thanks to our supporters- people just like you.

Whatever you can offer is deeply appreciated. We appreciate your time as well as your resources. Seriously. We treat all of our donors and volunteers as part of our family.

Thanks in advance for helping make the future brighter for LGBTIQ people under the Big Sky!

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On Greg, Bozeman, and Hugs

 

Last night, I had the honor of hearing D Gregory Smith tell his story — from childhood to Catholic priest to former priest/out gay man/counselor/so much more — to a gathering at St. James Episcopal Church as part of the church’s faith formation classes on sexuality and spirituality.

 

While I have been following Greg’s blog for a while, it wasn’t until I moved to Bozeman a couple of months ago that I met him in person. I knew bits and pieces of his story — the parts I had read on this blog — and I knew he was involved in LGBTQI causes here in Montana. But, you never know what a person is really like away from the keyboard.

 

I wasn’t disappointed.

 

I first met Greg in the AIDS Outreach office in downtown Bozeman. By the time I left half an hour later, I was not only a big fan of his, but he offered me a chance to contribute to this blog.  And, I got a hug.

 

The next time I ran into him, he was leading worship at Living Waters United Methodist Church in Belgrade. I left that morning after hearing a great message and with another hug.

 

Last week, I saw Greg at the first session of the faith formation classes, where we heard Bishop Brookhart talk about his research on the issue of sexual orientation and the Bible. Yep, got another hug.

 

Last night, though, I learned so much more about Greg. I learned he is relatable, humble, giving, empathetic, caring and open. He is a deep thinker whose incredible life experiences have shaped him into a person of substance. If you know Greg personally, I’m not telling you anything new. But if you follow this blog without having met him — the way I used to — know that he knows of what he writes.

 

I wasn’t expecting my first post on this blog to be along the lines of “An Ode to Greg,” but his story gave me a lot to think about after I left. Maybe it’s because we are the same age and have lived completely different and often complicated lives only to end up in the same place.

 

I hope to contribute more as I navigate my new “out” life here in this beautiful city. I am excited to be part of the Bozeman/Montana LGBTQI community and to live in a city that is (mostly) accepting.

 

Mostly, I’m excited that I’m four for four on hugs.