Helena News

Dec 5, 2012 2:17 PM by Marnee Banks - MTN News

Non-discrimination ordinance stirs controversy in Helena

HELENA - A proposed Helena ordinance to protect lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people from discrimination is gaining steam and drawing heated debate.

The Helena City Commission on Monday night approved first passage of an ordinance approving the proposal ordinance.

During the packed meeting, Helena resident Michael Connor said, "My name is Michael Conner. I'm 25 years old and I've lived in Helena my whole life, and I am gay. I am also the survivor of violent hate crime, that took place 10 years ago when I was a freshman in high school here at Helena High."

Connor says it's time for the City of Helena to step up and take a stand against hatred.

In a unanimous vote, the commissioners supported an ordinance prohibiting discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people in housing, accommodation, and employment.

"It is a concern that I for instance can approach the ladies locker room over at the swimming pool and on the way in decide I'm transgender and I would have legal access to the women's locker room," Helena resident Ken Milburn said.

In response to such concerns, commissioners Thweat, Elsaesser, and Ellison added an amendment which says in the case of locker rooms or other places where users appear in the nude, they may be required to use the facility designated for their anatomical sex, regardless of their gender identity.

"Is the 16-year old at the Capital City Health Club supposed to be asking people to pull down their pants? I'm not sure how this will be enforced. It seems quite odd actually," Commissioner Katherine Haque-Hausrath said.

"The problem won't be with the transgendered community. They aren't going to hurt anybody. The problem is this gives voyeurs and men who are interested in little girls safe passageway into your bathrooms," Joe La Rue of the Alliance Defending Freedom said.

Both supporters and opponents say this issue has religious implications.

"It tramples on the individual conscience and violates deep moral convictions," Jerry Hamlin said.

"They're our sisters, our brothers, our friends, our family, our neighbors whether we know it or not. That's just the way it is and it will not change. And these are God's creation from a religious standpoint. This is not a demonic possession," added retired Methodist minister Lyle Hamilton.

The commissioners scheduled the final public hearing and vote on the ordinance for December 17th.

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