Montana Celebrates MLK Day with Pride Foundation Support

Past ‘I am Billings’ community photo courtesy of Not in Our Town Billings

Past ‘I am Billings’ community photo courtesy of Not in Our Town Billings


Several Montana cities are planning Martin Luther King Day celebrations with support from Pride Foundation’s sponsorship program.

In Missoula, the National Coalition Building Institute (NCBI) helps facilitate the community planning committee that has put on the January 21st event for years. This year, festivities begin with a rally at 5 p.m. at Caras Park with live drumming by Ben Coral. The rally will conclude with a candle-lit march for racial justice to the St. Paul Lutheran Church (202 Brooks St.) by 6 p.m. Montana Human Rights Network organizer Jamee Greer will deliver the keynote address this year, followed by dancing by the St. Ignatius Dance Troupe from the Flathead Indian Reservation.

In Helena, the Montana Human Rights Network will host their annual Lobby Day at the Capitol, beginning at 9:30 a.m. Email Jamee Greer at to sign up by this Friday. After a day of talking with legislators, you’ll deserve some fun! Head over to the Myrna Loy Center to reflect on the passage of the Helena Non-Discrimination Ordinance and discuss what still needs to be done to achieve King’s dream in the Queen City. The celebration will include food, beverages, conversation, and several short films with a social justice theme. The films start at 4 p.m., with the celebration to follow at 5:30. Montana Human Rights Network is a longtime grantee of Pride Foundation.

Not in Our Town-Billings will play a major role in their community’s multi-day celebration with sponsorship support from Pride Foundation, Yellowstone AIDS Project, Grace United Methodist Church, Montana State University-Billings, and current board chair and Pride Foundation volunteer Eran Thompson.

Events in Billings kick off Wednesday, January 16, with the Bahai Community’s free presentation titled, “The Purpose of Justice: Unity” at the Doll Museum, located at 3206 6th Ave. North.

On Friday, January 18, the Bahai faith and Not in Our Town come together to host indigenous performer Kevin Locke (Tokeya Inajin in Lakota), internationally known for his Northern Plains flute playing, traditional storytelling, visionary hoop dancing, and cultural knowledge. The free performance is at 7:00 PM and the location is TBD. Call 406-839-6734 for details.

On Saturday, January 19, is the 3rd Annual “I Am Billings” Community Photo. Join diverse friends, family, and neighbors of every race, religion, creed, sexual orientation, and gender identity in the spirit of the Martin Luther King holiday. Participants should meet at 1 p.m. at the Pioneer Park near the northeast tennis courts.

“The real reason we do the MLK community photo is because we want to give folks a chance to come together and enjoy being a community,” Thompson explained. “It is an opportunity to come with neighbors, family friends, and strangers. It doesn’t matter their color, religion, sexual orientation or gender identity – we are all together to say we are a part of this community.”

After you’ve warmed up from the photo, head over to the Billings Food Bank at 2112 4thAve. North at 6 p.m. for the annual Martin Luther King soul food dinner and fundraiser hosted by the Black Heritage Foundation. Tickets are $10.  Call Melvin Terry at 690-3644 or email for tickets or more information.

On Sunday, Jan. 20, the celebration continues in Billings with an interfaith service at 3 p.m. at First United Congregational Church, 310 North 27th Street. Not in Our Town’s own Eran Thompson will deliver a Martin Luther King Jr. sermon apropos to the theme, and there will be readings and music from the many faiths.

The MSU-Billings campus ushers in the actual holiday, Jan. 21, with a bell-ringing ceremony at 9:45 a.m., at the corner of Rimrock and Normal Aves. Afterward, there will be a march to the Student Union building followed by speakers and entertainment.

More candlelight vigil and marching fun will ensue at 6:00 PM on the Yellowstone County Courthouse lawn, 217 North 27th.  After a short program, this Black Heritage Foundation group moves to the Lincoln Center, 415 North 30th, for the 7:00 PM celebration, featuring a keynote by civil rights leader Dr. Charles McDew.

Caitlin is Pride Foundation’s Regional Development Organizer in Montana. Email Caitlin.


HIV Testing At Montana Pride

In keeping with the relevance of Montana Pride- and as a precursor to HIV Testing Awareness Day June 27th, free, anonymous HIV testing will be offered Friday and Saturday during Montana Pride in the MSU Strand Union Building, just look for these signs:

‘Montanans With HIV’ makes the paper

Map of USA with Montana highlighted
Image via Wikipedia

The Great Falls Tribune yesterday did a featured story on HIV in Montana with several sidebars on testing and the classification of the disease from AIDS to HIV stages 1-3. Along with Trisha Gardner of the Cascade County Health Department, Dean Wells of the Yellowstone AIDS Project and an anonymous man living with HIV in Great Falls, I was interviewed for the piece, which, among other things, focused on the stigma of persons living with HIV in the state.


On average, about 20 Montanans are diagnosed with the disease every year, said Trisha Gardner, community health education specialist and HIV case manager at the Cascade City-County Health Department.

“The number of newly diagnosed cases has held pretty steady every year,” Gardner said.

Overall, the number of people in Montana living with HIV is increasing because they are living longer, she said.

While that number is on the rise, most in Montana never publicly disclose they have HIV, Gardner said.

“They don’t have to,” she said. “For the most part it’s kept a pretty private issue.”

Many who live with the disease in Montana fear losing their jobs, friends or family, and even becoming a social outcast.

“My view is that the stigma definitely reduced over the years, but it’s still there,” said Dean Wells, executive director of the Yellowstone AIDS Project in Billings. “Many of our clients live in fear of someone finding out about it.”

John, a pseudonym because he fears losing his livelihood, was diagnosed with HIV eight and a half years ago.

Trying to be honest and open after his diagnosis, John told his employer.

“It wasn’t a week later, they asked me to find another job,” he said.

Fear and stigma is still with us but there’s a lot of hope in current HIV treatment and prevention.
The key is to get tested. HIV unsuppressed in the body does damage- sometimes very significant damage- which  cannot be reversed by treatment.

Benefits Tonight For Montana HIV Agencies

Through a calendar snafu, there are two- count ’em, TWO- benefits for HIV organizations in  the State of Montana tonight.

I’ll be in Billings tonight, speaking at the Yellowstone AIDS Project’s evening called Simply Elegant: Thirty Years of Fighting and Thriving.
From their website:

On December 3rd, 2011, the Yellowstone AIDS Project will host the 16th Annual World AIDS Day Benefit to be held at the Big Horn Resort (1801 Majestic Lane,  Billings) at 6 pm. This year’s event is titled Simply Elegant: Thiry Years of Fighting & Thriving.

The evening will include tapas catered by Beyond Basil, a wine tasting, silent and live auction items, a moving speech by HIV positive Montanan, D Gregory Smith and Venture Theatre will be performing excerpts from the Broadway Musical, “Rent”.

If you are in the Billings area, please come and say “Hi”- I’d love to see you – and these folks do good work.

And in Bozeman, we have The Red Ribbon Ball, AIDS Outreach’s 1st annual classy soiree to benefit client services at AIDS Outreach:

Please support these very worthwhile causes….


“Be Your Best Self”

Greg squared

The Yellowstone AIDS Project fundraiser last night was great. The auction items were cool; the people were great; Greg Louganis recounted his path from 3 year-old dancer to Olympic champion to humanitarian and coach. Loved being part of it all to help raise money for a very worthy cause.

This was my favorite quote of the evening:

“Never underestimate your ability to make someone else’s life better- even if you never know it. Just be your best self- it can change the world.”

I’ve gotten to know this guy a bit, and I am happy to say, he’s the real deal. His heart is large, his desire to make the world better is real, and his kindness and generosity made me (humbly) glad to be able to spend some time with him- and share the experience of my friend with the people here in Montana.

They got to know a man who worked hard to achieve his goals with such determination and drive that made me wonder if he was human. That wonder was quelled by the warmth and kindness he showed to me and my friends- and the humor, dedication and insight he shared during his presentation. His openness about being HIV-positive and gay and, (gasp), Californian, were inspiring. The casual comfort with which he presented himself and his life reminded me to not take myself too seriously- even though I’m not at all in his league.

Maybe that’s what everyone else who shared that night was thinking- and I guess that just proves my point.

Thanks, Greg- mission accomplished.

Oh, and thanks for eating my tuna sandwiches….

Yellowstone AIDS Project Event Tonight

Just left Greg Louganis at his hotel after a great visit, now off for a brief nap before tonight’s event.
Ken made it- the roads were fine, and we’re looking forward to a great evening!

Tonight. 6pm, Wyngate Ballroom- just off Zoo Avenue. Tickets available at the door!