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Missoula passes anti-discrimination ordinance
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Missoula passes anti-discrimination ordinance

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

The Missoula, Montana, City Council passed a new anti-discrimination ordinance in the early hours of April 13.

The ordinance forbids housing and employment discrimination based on 'actual or perceived sexual orientation, gender identity or expression.'

The council voted 10-2 to pass the measure after a tense seven-hour meeting. The final vote did not come until 1:45 on Tuesday morning.

The council's vote capped weeks of raucous debate on the measure, including hysterical claims that the proposed ordinance would entitle men in dresses to invade women's restrooms.

Missoula's chief of police issued a public warning to maintain order during the council meeting.

"For security reasons, I'm not going to spell out everything that we're going to do," Police Chief Mark Muir said. "We don't anticipate a huge problem, although we do anticipate large crowds. We're used to dealing with that and we anticipate that people will be well behaved, and we will be in place to reacquaint them with civility if they decide they're not going to behave properly."

The Diversity Day Committee brought hundreds of ordinance supporters to the city council chambers. Police then set up an auxiliary overflow room with a live feed of the proceedings.

As the anti-discrimination ordinance came up for debate, Missoula Mayor John Engen warned that he would recess the meeting if the audience clapped for any speaker - for or against the proposal.

"This will be like every other City Council meeting," Engen said. "I will expect that folks are respectful of one another and their different viewpoints."

After public testimony each of the 12 council members took the microphone to explain their votes.

When the final vote was taken, the pent-up applause erupted and ordinance supporters gave the council a standing ovation.

"Most of us can't remember civil rights in action," said Council member and ordinance sponsor Stacy Rye. "This is it for us. This is our lifetimes."

"Hopefully our actions tonight will ripple through Montana from Libby to Billings, from Dillon to Wolf Point, and eventually to the capital in Helena," said Council member Dave Strohmaier, another sponsor of the ordinance.

The controversy over the ordinance featured dueling websites naming themselves after the fictitious men-in-the-restroom issue.

NotMyBathroom.com opposed what it called the "Peeping Tom Protection Ordinance."

FlushTheFear.com - created by local religious leaders - supported the anti-discrimination measure.

In a dramatic moment in the public hearing, ordinance supporter Taryn Nash confronted NotMyBathroom.com creator Tei Nash, her own father.

"Dad, I strongly disagree with the way you have been portraying the LGBT community," Taryn said. "You have gone too far. I will not sit back any more and be quiet. I love you because you are my dad, but I have lost respect for you."

"You need to realize this crusade you are on is wrong, and it affects me personally," Taryn continued, coming out to her father in a very public venue.

"Right now I am ashamed to call you my father," she added.

He reportedly left the council chambers before she spoke.

NotMyBathroom.com claimed that the ordinance would protect men who wanted to put on women's clothes and harass them in restrooms.

It also falsely asserted that "it could also force ministers to perform homosexual marriages & [and] could also force the Boy Scouts of America to have homosexual Boy Scout leaders and force them to allow girls to be part of the troops."

FlushTheFear.com described itself as "a group composed of people of faith, including various denominations of the Christian faith, the Jewish faith, and a number of other faith traditions, who live and work in the Missoula area." "Our group will be a leader in articulating God's justice and ministry of inclusion and hospitality," they promised on their website.

Missoula is a town of some 107,000 people, the second-largest city in Montana.

It is the site of the University of Montana and is considered more diverse and more liberal than most areas of the state.

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