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LGBTQ+ support found in Missoula

Pride Month highlights challenges in rural Montana
LGBTQ+ support found in Missoula
Posted at 5:42 PM, Jun 09, 2021
and last updated 2021-06-10 10:19:32-04

MISSOULA — June is Pride Month because it remembers the anniversary of the 1969 “Stonewall Uprising” in New York, which turned the tide for the American LGBTQ+ community.

MTN News checked in with two organizations in Missoula that offer support and to provide some local context on the LBGTQ+ issue.

“For me, pride is absolutely a celebration to celebrate the long way we've come, you know, in the last 50 years of gay, trans, LGBTQ rights. So it's definitely a time to celebrate those accomplishments and honor those that came before us, but also to bring to life to the forefront, that there's a long way left to go,” said Western Montana LGBTQ+ Community Center Operations Administrator Andy Nelson.

The Center -- one of the oldest of its kind in Montana -- offers support and resources. “We’re a place for the community to connect both within the LGBTQ, and with our allies," Nelson explained.

Missoula to some people stands out. This month, Livability named it a top-five LGBTQ-Friendly city.

“Surprisingly enough Missoula tends to be listed in things like this, and I see why. We're a very open and accepting little city in a predominantly red state, rural state. And I think that's very unique and tells a lot about what Missoula,” Nelson said.

David Herrera, Board Treasurer at the Center echoed Nelson's comments.

“Thank goodness for organizations like the Community Center that actually is here to support folks, particularly that are struggling, and sometimes feel like they're, you know, all alone and don't have anybody, or have nowhere else to turn to," Herrera said, "So, it really serves an important resource, in Missoula, but for western Montana.”

Many communities in Montana do not have organizations that can provide the same amount of resources.

In Florence, the recently started a Gender and Sexuality Alliance club (GSA) at the school has sparked policy questions. But in Missoula, that conversation looks different. The city adopted a non-discrimination ordinance in 2010 providing a bit more padding around groups like GSA however, students are also reporting challenges.

“Missoula -- while they do have GSAs and they do run -- they might not have that like controversy as Florence is going through, Missoula schools also and students are going through a lot of discrimination based on their gender identity and sexual orientation too," reported EmpowerMT Youth Development Coordinator Sierra Pannell. "It's not just like a Florence issue or more rural town issue, it's everywhere in Montana. Students everywhere are facing this struggle.”

EmpowerMT is a leadership development organization based in Missoula that coordinates statewide for the GSA network. It's among its many youth-oriented programs.

“While there is a lot of people you know saying some pretty like harsh and discriminatory things about this like GSA club or just LGBTQ+ folks in general, there are some really great advocates," Pannell said.