March 21, 2011
Transgender Legal Group Raises Concerns About Montana Bill to Ban Local Transgender and Gay Protections
Bill Headed to Vote in State Senate Would Gut Missoula’s Anti-LGBT Discrimination Ordinance
New York, New York – In a letter to Montana state Senators, the Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund (TLDEF) today expressed concerns about the constitutionality of a proposed bill that would make it unlawful for any city or town in the state to pass a law protecting transgender, lesbian, gay or bisexual Montanans from discrimination. House Bill 516 - which was voted out of the Senate Local Government Committee last Friday after passing the House of Representatives last month - would bar local governments from passing laws prohibiting discrimination on any grounds not already protected under Montana state law. It is expected to be voted upon in the full Senate shortly, perhaps as early as Tuesday, March 22. Because sexual orientation and gender identity and expression are not included as protected classes under Montana state law, HB 516 would strike down local legal protections from discrimination upon which transgender, lesbian, gay and bisexual Montanans rely. Among the laws that would be affected by HB 516 is Missoula’s non-discrimination ordinance.
On April 12, 2010, Missoula officials passed a local non-discrimination law protecting transgender, lesbian, gay and bisexual residents from discrimination. Opponents of that law's passage introduced HB 516 in the Montana House of Representatives earlier this year with the specific goal of striking down Missoula's non-discrimination ordinance and ensuring that no city or town in the state could ever enact a law protecting transgender, lesbian, gay or bisexual people from discrimination again.
HB 516 would make it impossible for transgender, lesbian, gay and bisexual Montanans to seek protection from discrimination in the cities and towns where they live. It is motivated solely by bias towards transgender, lesbian, gay and bisexual people, which is a constitutionally impermissible basis for legislation. It would deprive transgender, lesbian, gay and bisexual people of their right to participate in the political process and seek help from their local governments. It would turn transgender, lesbian, gay and bisexual Montanans into strangers to a broad swath of Montana’s government and would violate constitutional guarantees of equal protection under established United States Supreme Court precedent.
"Montanans have spoken through their local governments and have stated clearly that they want to protect transgender, lesbian, gay and bisexual Montanans from discrimination in areas like employment and housing," said TLDEF executive director Michael Silverman. "Transgender, lesbian, gay and bisexual Montanans want the same right to live and work free from discrimination that everyone else enjoys. It is unconstitutional for Montana to target them by taking away their right to pass local laws that protect them from the discrimination that they face in the cities and towns where they live," he added. "Montana must treat all Montanans equally. It violates the Constitution when it closes its doors to its transgender, lesbian, gay and bisexual residents simply because some people do not like them."