[Note: This is a guest post by Clara Bentler and Kiah Abbey, who is a Program Organizer for Forward Montana. If you’re interested in a guest post on the Cowgirl Blog email me at mntnacowgirl (at) gmail.com]
In the summer of 2014, citizens of Billings came together to work for a municipal non-discrimination ordinance and ensure that all within the city limits were guaranteed fairness, dignity and respect regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Clara Bentler and her family played an active role in the campaign supporting the ordinance. Clara shares her thoughts on the Billings NDO campaign in a speech titled “Testing My Courage” just before this week’s Montana Senate Judiciary Committee’s hearing to amendment the Montana Human Rights Act to include gender identity and sexual orientation.
Ever since I was a little kid, I have been taught that everyone is equal. I have been taught this by my parents, my friends, and even in History class. But even with the help of the constitution, why is everyone having issues with some people being gay, lesbian or transgender? When I found out that in my own state, there was a problem of an ordinary person’s rights, it didn’t sound good. If someone was gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender and they walked into a store or business or any company by that matter, the person selling something could kick them out due to being gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender. That’s not fair. In the 14th Amendment it guarantees citizens of the United States equal rights. So why is this stopping us? Over the course of the year I have been involved in getting people those equal rights, and it has really opened my eyes. Close your eyes, and imagine your self with the perfect guy/girl. Now what If I told you that you can’t see them anymore, you can’t get married or have kids or be like every other dream couple. That’s what the people of the LGBT Community are dealing with. I went to make a stand.
One night with my mom we went to a City Council meeting and I was going because my mom was going and I could watch and understand what was really happening. When I heard all the different opinions of the people who were against it and for it, it made me realize that we are all so different. We need to be different but our differences were so big it was tearing us apart. So I decided that I was going to talk to the City Council and tell them how I was feeling. When It was my turn, I was shaking, But I knew I just had to speak from my heart.
I told them about a story that my dad always read to us before bed. It was called the Sneetches on the Beaches. It was about how the Star Belly Sneetches had stars on their belly, and would tell the Plain Belly Sneetches, that they were better. “If all the Star Belly Sneetches were playing ball, could the Plain Belly Sneetches get in the game? Not at all”. The Sneetches on the Beaches, by Dr. Seuss. Then Sylvester McMonkey McBean came and told them all that the Plain Belly Sneetches could get stars and visa versa. This goes on for a while and some get stars on some get stars off and soon enough everyone is mixed together. That’s when they realized that they are all the same, Star or no Star. That story explains a lot of what was going on here.
When the end of the meeting came around, they took a vote. It had come to a tie. Half the members choose no and the other half choose yes. It was the Mayor’s vote to break. The Mayor, Tom Hanel, voted no and I think it was a step backwards, but I guess that’s what he felt needed to be done. You don’t have to agree with me, because if you don’t agree with me, I don’t look at you and say “I don’t want you in my class” or “You’re not allowed to buy anything from my store”.
This really tested my courage because even though we didn’t get what we were trying for, I know I had made a difference and that’s what I wanted. If I could just make one life happier, I would be happy. Now in the State of Montana same sex marriage is legal, and I hope that all the other states follow. We are all just people, wanting to survive, make a living. If you judge, none of that is possible. That’s what I believe, that everyone is equal.
As Clara describes, Mayor Tom Hanel unfortunately decided to take a step backwards with a tie breaking no vote on the ordinance. This week we have the opportunity to build the Montana that Clara describes—a state free of unfair judgment and undue prejudice.
Test your courage and contact the Senate Judiciary Committee today to encourage them to vote yes to SB 179 and amend the Montana Human Rights Act to include gender identity and sexual orientation.
You can find more information about the amendment to the Montana Human Rights Act, the hearing, and the Senate Judiciary Committee here.