Official seal of Helena, Montana (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
The recitals of the proposed Helena, Montana LGBT non-discrimination ordinance state that “it is the intent of the City of Helena that no person shall be denied his or her civil rights or be discriminated against based upon his or her sexual orientation or gender identity or expression.” It is a wonderful statement, really, one that even a few years ago would have been unimaginable, coming from any Montana governmental subdivision, state or local. Yet, here it is.
And I have been dubious for so long, even though I know in my soul that equality is a social inevitability, rather than a mere possibility. It is here, and it is now. But, do we have the will, collectively, as a community to make it happen. The Helena City Commission is out there, and though we have not always appreciated some of their steps or the way in which they took them, passing this ordinance will be a bold step forward. I for one appreciate the resolve and energy it has taken to come even this far. They have done their part.
The advocates too, the Montana Human Rights Network, the ACLU, other organizations, and many individuals who work, live, play and pray here have done their part too. They have stepped up and spoken out on behalf of a marginalized group that for too long has lived in fear and been denied equality. They are not asking for something more, or something special, but just the opportunity to live as the majority do – without fear or denial of security in employment, to participate in social and recreational activities with their friends, family and neighbors, schoolmates and fellow churchgoers, etc., and to be able to access all accommodations for basic needs including food, health, shelter, etc.. We owe these dedicated, courageous volunteers a great debt of gratitude for their willingness to fight the good fight, regardless of the outcome.
There have been the nay sayers too. They have stood up and said what they believe. And though we may disagree, we do not judge or condemn. In fact, we very much support their right to hold their beliefs and to practice them and voice them as they do. These rights are fundamental and vital to the life of this democracy. We propose. We discuss and dissent. We resolve and we move on – together.
Then, there are the rest of us, the citizens of the Helena valley, the community and the people.
We too have a stake in this. We have the opportunity to shape a community which truly reflects our values, one that can shine as a beacon of humanity for all of Montana, as the capital city should. We enjoy diversity, for otherwise life would be boring. We embrace the idea of a free society, for it is our heritage. We love justice, as even the prophets proclaimed that we should. Most of all, we thrive on patience, tolerance, kindness and love. And the greatest of these is love. The great ones proclaimed it, as even the wise and the holy ones have lived it. The singers sing about it, as the preachers preach about it. And it is all true, in the end. We must love one another even as we have been loved – not some frothy and emotional, sappy appeal, but the kind of action that elevates others need and dignity above our own. It is the kind of action which tolerates differences in deference to commonality and our shared struggle.
And so I ask – do we have it? We talk, preach and pray about notions like peace, justice, and fairness, and I believe that we intend them and desire them. But, do we do them? If I have evoked even a moment of pause to consider this question, we need not be too hard on ourselves. For in this action now before us we have the opportunity to redeem our lack of fidelity to our best of intentions. I am asking you, the people of this community to come out and join me in supporting the Helena Non-discrimination ordinance which will be coming on for final hearing and approval by the Helena City Commission at 6:00 on Monday, December 17th, not just because it is of vital importance to so many, or because it is the right thing to do, but because it says so much fundamentally about who we are as a community, as a society, about being the change we wish to see in the world. It is not enough to have good intentions, to talk, preach and pray about the world that we want to live in, that we want for our children. We have to get out and build it.