First off, I love Billings but am so disappointed.
It is incredulous that Billings, the city that so proudly said “Not in Our Town” 20 years ago, and stood up in a loving, nonviolent way to counter hate crimes and racism against Jews, minorities and gays ... that last night the City Council voted 6-5 against passing a non-discrimination ordinance to protect the rights of LGBTs in our city.
NIOT was correct in its stance 20 years ago and it led to a nationwide adoption in many cities of Not In Our Town across the country. NIOT is something our community initiated and should be proud about including everyone in protection and non-discrimination.
We rejected racism and hate crimes 20 years ago ... but ... that was 20 years ago and it is apparent times have changed.
It is so embarrassing and hypocritical that NIOT celebrated its 20th anniversary this June in Billings, honoring us for initiating an all-inclusive and welcoming community. Oh, we were quite happy and proud of that distinction.
But ... not today. How can the city of Billings be called Not in Our Town pioneers after last night’s vote to shut down the NDO ordinance? Where were the all silent anti-gay believers 20 years ago? How superior you feel ... hiding against the Bible. I am a Christian too, and recall that Jesus said, “Love thy neighbor.” He did not say, “Love thy neighbor except for ... gays, LGBTs.” You can selectively quote the Bible to me, but there are only seven references to homosexuality.
I recently heard a former elected official disparage the NDO, saying we already have laws to protect gays in the First Amendment. Ahem, no, we do not.
Has that elected official forgotten the horrors of what happened to Matthew Shepard? Let’s not be naïve enough to think it could not happen here. Let’s remember the testimonies at City Council of abuse, discrimination and abuse of gays that have occurred in Billings.
Many at the City Council meeting said they had not witnessed discrimination. Of course you haven’t! It is an under the radar, silent but very real discrimination and those that experience that discrimination are afraid and choose to move or not make waves, for fear of retaliation. I salute those who were brave enough to testify and share their names.
As for our Mayor Tom Hanel, shame on you. You had the power to vote for inclusiveness and compassion for the oppressed. Instead, you chose to say Billings was not ready for an NDO vote. Really? Tell me, please, when Billings will be ready?
Thank heavens for clear minded, compassionate officials who didn’t worry about a popularity vote during the debates over the Civil Rights Act and allowing women to vote. It has been said previously that you go which way the wind blows and I supported you completely. You showed your true colors Monday night.
You cannot have it both ways. Shame on you.
This “war” is not over. As the proverb says, “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.” We will prevail.
Disclosure: My husband, Al Swanson, is a City Council member in Ward 4. I was PR person for NIOT’s 20th anniversary gathering and celebration in June.