A bill heard Friday in the state House Judiciary Committee would forbid discrimination on the basis of gender identity and expression and sexual orientation in Montana.
Under House Bill 465, carried by Rep. Kim Abbott, D-Helena, gender identity and expression and sexual orientation would be added to the list of classes for which freedom from discrimination is recognized as a civil right in the Montana Human Rights Act.
Both would also be added to the sections of the Act outlawing discrimination in private-sector hiring, housing, education and public accommodations.
Present state law forbids such discrimination on the basis of “race, creed, religion, color, sex, physical or mental disability, age, or national origin.”
“It just makes it clear that we think that people should be treated based on merit,” said Abbott, who addressed the commission wearing a Big Sky Pride pin. “They should be treated in employment based on their ability to do the job. They should be treated in housing based on whether or not they can pay rent and follow the rules of the landlord.”
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Twenty-one states and the District of Columbia forbid employment and housing discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation, according to the Human Rights Campaign.
The Rev. D Gregory Smith, an assisting priest with St. James Episcopal Church in Bozeman, told the committee that in the past year he counseled 11 LGBTQ youth who had been kicked out of their parents’ homes. He said he also counseled five sets of parents whose LGBTQ children took their own lives.
“The passage of this bill hurts no one. Refusing to pass this bill hurts thousands of Montanans,” Smith said. “In my view, this bill goes a long way to satisfying the command of Jesus to love our neighbor as ourselves. There is room under the Big Sky for all Montanans, including LGBTQ people.”
Lobbyist Anita Milanovich, speaking in opposition on behalf of the Montana Family Foundation, told the committee HB 465 runs counter to freedom of religion, speech and conscience.
“HB 465 threatens First Amendment freedoms by forcing individuals and organizations to speak or act contrary to their convictions and sincerely held religious beliefs,” Milanovich said. “This is government-compelled speech and government-compelled action.”