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A rainbow flag

A rainbow flag flew in front of the state Capitol in 2019, which drew the ire of some Republican lawmakers.

All were welcome to support a safer and more inclusive community for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer people in Missoula at a LGBTQ+ summit on Saturday.

The Western Montana LGBTQ+ Community Center hosted the first "Building Community With Pride" summit at the James E. Todd Building at the University of Montana, which the Center's co-chair Eric Hall hopes to be the first of many.

"Being queer in a community can sometimes be isolating," Hall said. "It can feel lonely and we wanted to provide this as an opportunity to bring folks together."

The event was open to all and included panel discussions on topics such as LBGTQ health, intersectionality of race and personal finance in addition to a drag workshop and talk by Fran Dunaway and Naomi Gonzalez, the founders of a gender-neutral clothing company that leaves behind norms about how men and women are "supposed" to dress and supports costumers who exist outside the gender binary.

The Pride Foundation awarded the Center a grant to get the summit going with the goal of educating people about different topics and building the LGBTQ+ community in Missoula.

"Everyone seems respected and encouraged here," said Tina Prather, who attended the summit after hearing about it from a friend who runs the Center's women's group. "I like the structure and organization and free flow of information and questions. I can ask a question that's uncomfortable and they'll be OK trying to address it versus changing the subject."

At a session called "Know Your Rights," Elizabeth Ehret of the Montana ACLU and Austin Wallis from the UM School of Law OUTlaws informed the audience about their rights, how those rights can be violated, and how they can seek help.

When the conversation turned to workplace discrimination, Ehret said it's important to keep as much documentation as possible. The process of reporting discrimination and harassment differs depending on someone's job and their workplace environment. Ehret said some but not all jobs have a human resource process where individuals can file complaints, and noted that HR is not always a safe option for some.

Ehret advised attendees to keep a written log of discriminatory incidents in a journal, through emails to themselves, or even by texting friends. 

"That all can count as evidence," Ehret said. "If you go to the human rights bureau, you can take those things with you to say 'This is what happened.'"

Ehret said emails are a great option because they come with a timestamp, and they can be used to confirm what happened with other sources.   

"If it's safe for you to do this, if your employer or coworker says something to you in passing, you can then email that person and say 'I just want to follow up regarding our conversation earlier where you said XYZ' and just reiterate that's what happened so you have it in writing," Ehret said.

The discussion was one of many Saturday where people shared knowledge through personal stories, and came away with a better sense of community.

Hall said being LBGTQ+ can be difficult, especially in rural areas of Montana, but he hopes holding events like the summit can increase the community's visibility and highlight role models for queer youth or any queer person who is struggling with their identity.

"By being visible and holding these kind of events, we can say 'Hey, you're not the only person out there. There is a whole community here that is here to support you and love you for who you are,'" Hall said.

The summit wrapped up with an afternoon drag workshop before an amateur drag night at the new Zootown Community Arts Center. The workshop not only taught people about makeup and body shaping, but also about how to get involved with fundraising through drag.

"That's one thing a lot of folks don't realize is all the drag shows you see out there are fundraisers for small outfits," Hall said.

The Center partnered with the Imperial Sovereign Court of the State of Montana, a nonprofit LGBTQ+ organization, to host the drag events. The organizations are also hosting "Drag Bingo" at Western Cider at 11 a.m. on Sunday. All proceeds from bingo card purchases will support the Center.

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