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At around 1:30 a.m. on the morning of April 13, 2010, the Missoula City Council, on which I served, adopted ordinance 3428 — the Missoula Nondiscrimination Ordinance — prohibiting discrimination in employment, housing, education and public accommodation based on sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression. Today marks the eighth anniversary of this historic event.

In the early stages of crafting the ordinance, there was discussion of whether we were ready to tackle gender identity and gender expression, or whether we should just stick to sexual orientation. Thankfully, we concluded that to do anything less would silence voices in our community and sanction discrimination.

In 2010, our opponents said that if we passed the ordinance we’d be paving the way for indecent bathroom conduct and unsafe bathrooms for women. One person at the public hearing suggested that the ordinance would provide cover for middle-aged men “sitting on the pot” in women’s bathroom stalls, presumably looking through peepholes. Others suggested that allowing individuals to select the bathroom of their choice based on gender identity or expression would most assuredly lead to sexual assaults in women’s bathrooms by men posing as women.

I recently asked the city attorney how many complaints about who was using which bathroom have been made since passage of Missoula’s nondiscrimination ordinance. The answer: zero. The sky hasn’t fallen and Missoula is a more welcoming place because of its bold action nearly a decade ago.

I bring this up because bathroom mania has reared its head again by way of proposed ballot Initiative 183 (the Montana Locker Room Privacy Act) that threatens to nullify local nondiscrimination laws and give Montana an unnecessary black eye.

I-183 would require that restrooms in public facilities be designated for use by men or women based on “anatomy and genetics existing at the time of birth.” My question is, who is going to be checking anatomy or genetics? If this isn’t the definition of big-government overreach and intrusiveness, I don’t know what is.

The purpose statement of I-183 claims that the initiative is aimed at furthering the “state’s interest in protecting all persons” using public facilities. Again, though, this is a solution seeking a problem, as there is no evidence that any of the paranoia related to Missoula’s nondiscrimination ordinance has come to fruition. As the Me Too movement has made abundantly clear, it’s not transgender people in public restrooms whom we should be concerned about — it’s men in positions of power and influence!

Local governments, already strapped for cash, simply do not have the financial wherewithal to spend precious resources to build gender-neutral bathrooms for use by those whose gender does not match their birth certificate, or to build additional single-sex bathrooms where currently only unisex bathrooms exist. And according to the fiscal note prepared by the state of Montana’s Office of the Governor Budget and Program Planning, “The fiscal impact to cities and towns cannot be quantified as the resources required to enforce the law and the monetary damages that will be awarded pursuant to the provisions of the initiative are unknown.” This says nothing of the infringement upon personal liberty to enforce the initiative.

Consequently, I’d encourage you to not sign the petition to put I-183 on the ballot. If it does get on the ballot, I hope that you’ll join me in voting it down and sending a strong signal to the nation that Montanans do not embrace discrimination. For more information on ways to oppose I-183, see www.noi183.org.

David Strohmaier is a Missoula County commissioner.

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