HELENA — Advocates launched a new bid Wednesday to extend non-discrimination protections for gays, lesbians and transgender people across Montana — undeterred by a long string of prior legislative defeats.
Proponents this time argue that extending protections would be good for Montana’s business climate.
They cited last year’s controversy in North Carolina as an example of the business ramifications. The Tar Heel state found itself under fire when it passed a law prohibiting legal protections for LGBT people. PayPal decided not to expand its business in the state and several sporting events were canceled.
The bill’s sponsor, Democratic Rep. Kelly McCarthy of Billings, argued before Montana’s House Judiciary Committee that passing the law would signal to businesses that Montana is open for business to corporations who value diversity and inclusion.
“Let’s not give anybody a reason not to come here,” McCarthy told the committee.
The panel spent more than two hours on the proposal and heard impassioned testimony from both sides.
Some shared personal stories of discrimination because of their sexual orientation, while others countered with concerns that the proposed law would impinge on their religious expression.
The proposed law would add gays, lesbians, transgender people and others who don’t classify as heterosexual to the class of people protected under the state’s anti-discrimination laws. The state’s Human Rights Bureau is charged with enforcing laws that bar discrimination in employment, housing and public services because of race, sex, disability, age or national origin.
About two dozen states offer nondiscrimination protections to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.
Montana’s proposal would add “gender identity or expression” and “sexual orientation” to existing law.
Jeff Laszloffy, the president of the Montana Family Foundation, warned of unintended consequences and urged the committee to reject the proposal.
“For those concerned about unintended consequences, this bill should set off all kinds of alarm bells,” he said. “If you pass this bill, it would give boys and men unfettered access to girls’ locker rooms.”
Some proponents recounted their personal travails in arguing for the bill.
Kathleen O’Donnell, a relative of McCarthy, spoke about the hurt she faced when she was rejected, she said, by a potential landlord because of her sexual orientation while looking for a rental for her fiancee and son.
As O’Donnell recounted the incident, the landlord told her that “her kind” would not be welcomed.
“Many emotions rang through my head — confusion, anger, sadness,” O’Donnell said. “My kind was a person who had a stable job and a good rental history in search of a home.”
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