Community members weigh in on proposed nondiscrimination ordinance
BOZEMAN, Mont. - Discussion at the Bozeman City Commission meeting got emotional as dozens turned out to speak out on a proposed nondiscrimination ordinance. Public comment finished at 9:30 p.m. on the first draft of an ordinance that would extend equal rights protections based on sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression. Dozens took the podium Monday night -- some urging commissioners to pass the ordinance, others passionately speaking against it. Community members packed Bozeman City Hall to weigh in on the ordinance. Mayor Jeff Krauss and the commission first gave their general thoughts about the drafted ordinance, and all seemed to support it. "I believe that discrimination is real and does exist in our community," said Commissioner Cyndy Andrus. "We, as a community, have embraced the idea that all of us are created equal," Commissioner Chris Mehl said. The commission then turned the floor over to public comment. Opponents of the ordinance said it is a nonissue in the first place. "An NDO is unnecessary, unpopular, unlawful and unconstitutional," said Bozeman resident Michael Ross. "I believe in this community and I believe that generally people do not discriminate," explained a Bozeman resident. Others worried an exemption for religious organizations will actually work against those organizations. "The NDO could effectively end all formal argument on the issue by coercing all those opposed to acquiesce and accept a lifestyle they morally oppose," said a Bozeman resident. Some were concerned with the ordinance's wording, citing vagueness. "I don't think that any special interest group should have their own ordinance. Billings has already now had to do add obese people and veterans to their ordinance and I don't see any end to that," explained Belgrade resident Marybeth Adams. Those in favor of the ordinance argued the proposed law is not a religious issue, but a civil rights issue. "It's sad to hear Christians speaking out against the NDO," said a Bozeman resident. Some members of the LGBT community shared personal stories of discrimination. "Even before I had transitioned or had ever been in a relationship with anyone, I was fired from my job as a request of my perceived sexual orientation," explained a Bozeman resident. A few people urged the commissioners to table the ordinance, and asked them to do more research on other Montana cities that have passed similar ordinances, while supporters thanked commissioners for considering what many say is a fight for civil rights. The commissioners will listen to more public comment at another meeting in a few weeks.