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Montana Gets Good, Bad Marks On LGBT Scorecard

A new report says at least four Montana cities can do more to protect their lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender citizens and employees.
According to the Municipality Equality Index, produced by the Human Rights Campaign, the average score for cities in Montana is 44 out of 100 points. That's below the national average of 59.

Billings scored 23 points, Bozeman 40 and Helena 53. Great Falls scored 2 points and Missoula 100.  

Lead-author Cathryn Oakley says, "we're rating 353 cities from across the country. We're looking at them based on 6 different areas: First, non discrimination laws; second, relationship recognition; third, how the city treats its own employees; fourth, city services; fifth, law enforcement and sixth, city leadership on matters of equality."

The Human Rights Campaign’s Oakley says Missoula's score on the  Municipality Equality Index - or M.E.I -  is well deserved given the city passed the first ever municipal non-discrimination ordinance in the state of Montana in 2010. The city council has also established a volunteer LGBT liaison.

"Missoula is one of those places where I think city leadership has really taken LGBT equality really seriously," Oakley says, "and not just once, but that they've done it over and over again. Last year when they found out that they were going to be rated in the M.E.I, they immediately wanted to know what they need to do to come in at 100, and they did that."

And her reaction to the comparatively low scores of the other Montana cities?

"You know, everybody needs somebody to look up to."

That's not good enough for Bozeman's Michelle Grabbe who's not satisfied with Bozeman's score of 40.

"Gosh, it just makes me sad," Grabbe says. "Compared to other states, Montana is so far behind in so many different areas that I have to say when I moved here, I felt like, coming from Texas, I didn't see the racism and stuff I saw on a daily basis there, so I felt like we were more progressive, but then when you get to certain issues like LGBT stuff, or even Native American things, it's like Montana is still backwards."

Grabbe is President of PFLAG (Parents Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) of Gallatin Valley. Bozeman passed it's own non-discrimination ordinance earlier this year. As the mother of a bisexual son, she says it was a relief when that rule was finally approved.

"I was amazed by the amount of gay people who can have an entire 30 minute conversation and never use a pronoun," Grabbe says. "People just assume that  they're talking about an opposite sex partner, which would be the norm, when in truth, they're gay. They're just afraid of losing their job, or they're afraid of housing for sure when they show up with a same-sex couple."

The Human Rights Campaign's Cathryn Oakley says there's a reason LGBT policy moves faster at the local level than at the state level.

"I think that at the local level it's a lot harder to pretend these issues don't exist." she says. "I think you have a face and a name, so when people come and say to you, 'I'm experiencing this discrimination,' and they say that at a city council meeting - you might know that person, or if you don't know that person, your kid might go to school with that person's kid. Ultimately I think it's a lot more personal. I also think city leaders are some of the most effective leaders in the country. They get things done."

U.S. District judge Brian Morris has set a November 20 hearing for arguments in a lawsuit challenging Montana's ban on gay marriage.

O’Brien first landed at Montana Public Radio three decades ago as a news intern while attending the University of Montana School of Journalism. His first career job out of school was covering the 1995 Montana Legislature. When the session wrapped up, O’Brien was fortunate enough to land a full-time position at the station as a general assignment reporter. Feel free to drop him a line at
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