The Joke (on us) Has (at least for now) Ended.

Yes, folks, the circus that was the 62nd Legislature of the State of Montana has been officially closed.

It was one of the most contentious sessions in memory- and one of the most publicized. Sadly, for Republicans, it was mostly at their expense. Republican lawmakers introduced the most ridiculed and bigoted legislation in Montana history- giving the state its fair share of national media attention. Only some of it good.

Mostly it was about third-rate candidates such as Billy Bob Wagner, who introduced legislation to reinstate the gold standard, and was laughed at nationally on Anderson Cooper 360 for his ridiculous “birther” bill (but mostly for his stupidity). Then there was Kris Hansen, a “secret lesbian” who introduced one of the most pro-discrimination legislative actions to ever hit the aisles of the Capitol. Mary Cheney, anyone? And the Montana GOP, for no good reason other than to perpetuate hate and shame, voted to keep The Gays illegal- and we heard some of the most disgusting testimony to ever foul a Capitol microphone.

And don’t forget (as if I could) Janna Taylor’s ridiculous, ignorant and dangerous comments about HIV in the Montana prison system. In my opinion, the defining moment of the session. And that is a short list of all the craziness perpetuated at the time and expense of the people of Montana-a better list is here.

But I want to take a minute to thank the legislators who spent a great deal of their time and energy standing up for the rights of Montanans. Diane Sands, Carol Williams, Christine Kaufmann and Bryce Bennett all spent a lot of time defending equality and testifying against discrimination, bigotry and homophobia in this session. If you see any of them, thank them. Buy them a drink.

Hell, give them a kidney if they need one.

It is folks such as these- and all who testified, protested, blogged and wrote letters-, who keep our freedoms alive- and who stand in the face of political bigotry and chicanery.  And let’s not forget Jamee Greer, Mike Wessler, Niki Zupanic and all the representatives of groups who lobbied for human equality- they get all the abuse, ridicule and sleepless nights, but not enough recognition. Drinks and kidneys for them, too.

Let’s give Carol Williams the last word (for now):

“I’m proud of our work.

With that, Mr. Chairman, I will wish you luck in the next session probably trying to fix a lot of the things we broke this time.”

Displaced Anger And Civility

Yesterday’s post ended rather snarkily on my part.

I dismissed the abuse suffered by Rep Kris Hansen (R) Havre with:

That’s nothing- we LGBT people have been putting up with this all our lives.  Wimp.

I admit, I was angered by her lack of understanding of the abuse this bill attempts to codify into law and her whining about some answering machine obscenities and impassioned people in public. That kind of stuff seems to be a part of a controversial person living a public life, and the deep reality of the anger that this bill provokes.

However, I don’t ever want to convey the impression that I believe that this kind of incivility is something that I condone. No human being should ever be subjected to threats because of a political position- even when that position infringes on the rights of other human beings to pursue safety, happiness and well-being.

Having said that, the anger and other strong emotions  elicited by this legislation should not be suppressed. That’s part of the process, too. But those strong emotions should never be used to intimidate, coerce and threaten. That’s fascism.

And we’re better than that.

HB 516 “Probably” Dead

The Associated Press:

A Republican senator says a measure to overturn a Missoula city ordinance that protects gay people from discrimination lacks support from GOP leadership.

The Senate Local Government Committee passed House Bill 516 last week. But the bill was returned to the committee Tuesday and chairman Sen. Jon Sonju says it is doubtful the measure will go to the Senate floor.

Sonju says he moved the measure back to committee because it doesn’t have the support of Senate leaders.

The proposal, carried by Republican Rep. Kristin Hansen, drew lengthy testimony during its hearings in the House and Senate.

Supporters said the bill would overturn an unconstitutional ordinance that infringes on the state’s authority.

Opponents said the measure is targeted against the gay community and interferes with local governments’ ability to govern.

And from the Billings Gazette, the travails of poor Rep Kris Hansen:

Hansen told reporters Wednesday that she intends to ask that the bill be brought back to the full Senate for a debate.

Also on Wednesday, at a meeting of House Republicans, Hansen played a threatening voice mail she had received regarding HB516. She said she turned it over to the Helena Police Department, which is subpoenaing the phone records. If they find who left the message, the lawmaker said she would ask that charges be brought against the caller.

The voice mail, from what appeared to be a male caller, said:

“Here are some of my thoughts for you. If I were you, I would stop spreading hate and intolerance and bigotry against people and their loved ones. The Bible says you reap what you sow, and you and your loved ones are going to get that hate back and then who knows what might happen to you.”

It ended with an insult against her that contained with some obscenities.

“That’s not isolated,” Hansen said. “I get regularly, sometimes daily. I’ve also been accosted twice in Helena by members in opposition to 516 in my face, shaking their fingers in public places, in restaurants, calling me all of these names and more.”

That’s nothing- we LGBT people have been putting up with this all our lives. Wimp.

HB 516 Returned To Committee

HB 516, the legislation written to overturn the rights of local governments to enact protection ordinances, has been returned to the Local Governance Committee. Mike Wessler:

Throughout the session, we have been following Rep. Hansen’s pro-discrimination bill. This bill seeks to nullify Missoula’s non-discrimination ordinance that expands protections in the state’s human rights act to include gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people. Hansen’s bill would also prohibit any other city from passing similar measures.

Last Friday, supporters of equality and dignity in our state were dealt a blow when the bill received approval from its Senate committee. With this decision by the committee, the bill was headed for it’s final debate–a full debate on the Senate floor…or so we thought.

Today, shortly before the full Senate was slated to debate the measure, Republicans–out of nowhere–asked that the bill be sent back to committee. They cited the revelation of new information as their reason for this action. The bill was quickly returned to the committee.

While at this point, we cannot say anything definitive about the reason …, however, if history teaches us anything, it is that when bills are sent back to committee, it is not a good sign for the ultimate fate of the bill. One can’t help but wonder if today’s polling on the actions of the GOP scared a few of them out of supporting such a discriminatory measure.

And maybe my last post about the miserable treatment LGBT persons have received at the hands of this legislature had something to do with it.

Nah.
They’re not that smart.

Update: The Associated Press reports:

A Republican senator says a measure to overturn a Missoula city ordinance that protects gay people from discrimination lacks support from GOP leadership.

The Senate Local Government Committee passed House Bill 516 last week. But the bill was returned to the committee Tuesday and chairman Sen. Jon Sonju says it is doubtful the measure will go to the Senate floor.

Sonju says he moved the measure back to committee because it doesn’t have the support of Senate leaders.

The proposal, carried by Republican Rep. Kristin Hansen, drew lengthy testimony during its hearings in the House and Senate.

Supporters said the bill would overturn an unconstitutional ordinance that infringes on the state’s authority.

Opponents said the measure is targeted against the gay community and interferes with local governments’ ability to govern.

Newsflash! MT GOP Hates Human Rights (and LGBT People)

It’s been a rough few weeks for LGBT persons in Montana.

I testified at the legislature (with many of my brothers and sisters) against HB 516 which would overturn (perhaps even unconstitutionally) the right of cities and towns to enact their own anti-discrimination legislation. It passed out of committee- despite the amazingly logical arguments against it.

And Senate Bill 276, introduced by Tom Facey would have brought the criminal code into line with the judiciary- in effect aligning the language with the law, by removing the language of the deviate conduct laws which criminalize sexual behavior between consenting adults of the same gender. Bringing the language of the law in line with legal precedent. A no-brainer, right?

Sigh. Not for these Republican legislators. It just got worse. The hearing had some of the most disgusting things I’ve ever heard– much less to be spoken publicly by elected officials. The Billings Gazette had this to say:

Also turned back was a plan to get rid of a state law making gay sex subject to criminal penalties — even though the courts have ruled it unconstitutional and unenforceable.

Republicans, in a 13-7 vote, stacked up against the idea of removing from the books the law offensive to the gay community, which has argued over the years that the antiquated law sends a hostile message.

But House Republicans stuck with their party’s platform that calls for keeping the anti-gay law, even though many Senate Republicans had supported the idea in sending it to the other chamber.

“Voting to say this should stay on the books is truly a cruel act,” said Rep. Diane Sands, D-Missoula. “When you cast that vote you said that I and other members of this Legislature who are gay or lesbian should go to prison for up to 10 years for whom I love. Don’t come up to me later and say you are sorry.”

The Montana GOP has made things very clear- they don’t give a shit about human rights, they don’t give a shit about science and they don’t give a shit about gay people. In fact, they hate them. The only reason not to pass this bill was to slap the faces- repeatedly- of Montana LGBT persons. The only reason. That’s hate.

The plank that still stands in the Montana GOP Platform that promotes the criminalization of “homosexual” acts, I argued before, is anachronistic and hateful and should be removed.

I’ve changed my mind.

It should stay because that’s exactly what they believe. That kind of ridiculous hate and intolerance is exactly what the GOP legislators have sanctioned, promoted and supported. I thought that out of deference to some amazingly open Republican Montanans I know (and am related to) that this kind of thing could be avoided- that the official government of Montana would not tell LGBT kids that they are less valuable than others, that it wouldn’t keep LGBT adults living under the specter of vilification, intolerance and second-class citizenship.

I was wrong.

The MT GOP is intolerant and anti-gay. Period. And the people of Montana need to know that- without equivocation.

So, if you’re a Republican-leaning Montanan and you’re saying to yourself, “These legislators are crazy, they don’t speak for me,” you’re wrong. They do. And if you don’t follow the same ignorant, bigoted stance they are taking, you need to speak up.

Immediately.

And maybe consider leaving the party of bigotry and ignorance. Because, like it or not, the Montana Democrats are the only people standing united for human rights.

And if you’re an LGBT person who is still a Republican, the only thing I can (honestly) say is “Why? They hate you. Do you hate yourself?”

Because- mark my words, it’s just going to get worse.

Press From Yesterday

The Missoulian (of course) printed the most info on the HB 516 hearing yesterday:

A crowd of people, many of them from Missoula, showed up Monday to oppose a bill that would nullify the city’s 2010 ordinance that protects residents from discrimination based on their sexual orientation, gender and gender expression.

A smaller group of people, some of whom fought the Missoula ordinance last year, came to support House Bill 516 by Rep. Kristin Hansen, R-Havre, at a hearing before the Senate Local Government Committee.

It was a low-key hearing compared to the at-times boisterous House Judiciary Committee hearing last month.

Hansen’s bill would prohibit local governments from enacting ordinances or other policies like Missoula’s that cover, as a protected class from actual discrimination, any groups not now included in the Montana Human Rights Act.

She questioned the legality of the Missoula ordinance, saying it could take several years for such a challenge to get through courts here.

“My bill prevents that,” she said. “It declares that the state is preemptive in the field. I believe that state law does preempt in this area.”

I even got a mention:

Gregory Smith, who was a chaplain to the Legislature in 1993, said he is a therapist whose patients includes lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

“I am a gay man and a native Montanan,” he said. “We want to live our lives happily and from fear in the state we grew up in.”

Smith said the bill ignores a suffering segment of Montana’s population and is “enshrining bigotry and discrimination.

Read the full story here.

Off To The Rodeo

It’s not 40 below, but I do have a heater in the Bofus, so I’m off to the Rodeo- once known as the Montana Legislature, to speak in opposition to HB 516 (see previous post).

There are a lot of reasons to oppose this bill. Don Pogreba gives us more to think about from Intelligent Discontent:

One of the elements of Western movies that always puzzled me was the frequent assertion that no one in the West cared where a person had come from; all that mattered was the person they were in their new community. Growing up in relatively small towns like Shelby and Laurel, it seemed that the exact opposite was true. When someone new came to town, we wanted to know everything about him or her and we pried like hell to find out whatever we could. But the other half of the story was true: once that person arrived, all we cared about was that the new person did her job, treated her neighbors well, and shoveled her walk in the winter.

Once you became part of our town, your private life was your private life, and it wasn’t anybody’s business who you loved and/or slept with.

People like Harris Himes and and Dallas Erickson never seemed to learn that, though. For reasons that perhaps only a trained psychiatrist could explain, they seem obsessed with who someone sleeps with, and quite uncomfortably, how they do it. They hate people who are gay, lesbian, or transgender so much that they’ll lie about them, spew vicious invective at them, and even suggest that the death penalty would be appropriate for the crime of loving someone of the same sex.

Perfect. Read the rest here.

Oh, and while you’re at it, check out his piece on Montana Education. Excellent points, all.