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Non-discrimination ordinance discussed in Great Falls

Posted at 12:47 PM, Sep 09, 2020
and last updated 2020-09-09 14:47:42-04

GREAT FALLS — Public comment began on Tuesday evening with an hour of speakers in favor of a proposed non-discrimination ordinance requested by the city's LGBTQ+ community.

"If we don't have an NDO, there's no way I can stay with my kids and with this community because there's no way I can support it,” said a Great Falls High School student.

Some spoke in person, others by phone. "It would send a message to businesses and industries that Great Falls is more than ready to receive your people,” said a pastor who called in to the meeting.

An hour later, those opposed to the ordinance got to address commissioners for an hour.

"The unintended result of an NDO is an absolute assault on two foundations of our society. Those are the religious liberty and freedom of consciences,” Fred Miller said, speaking to commissioners at the meeting.

"We feel there's already enough anti-discrimination laws on the books as far as housing,” Lucile Zuidema said about her and her husband’s opinion. Housing discrimination is the primary reason the Center wants an NDO.

Prior to public comments, the city attorney reiterated her opinion that state laws make a non-discrimination ordinance unnecessary.

Afterward, the president of the Great Falls LGBTQ+ Center gave a presentation explaining the purpose of the center and the need to follow several other cities in the Treasure State in adopting an NDO.

In the end, city commissioners raised questions about the legality and legal consequences of passing an NDO and agreed not to pursue it but instead create a resolution affirming that the city supports the LGBTQ+ community.

"We can become a model community, best practices included for all protected classes, and use this as an opportunity to make those statements,” Mayor Bob Kelly said.

"We'll need to sit down and discuss among the board of the LGBTQ Center what the next steps are,” center board member Tyson Habein said.

City commissioners did not say when they expect to have a resolution ready to vote on.

Missoula was the first city in the state to pass a non-discrimination ordinance that the Missoula City council passed in 2010.