LGBTQ rights have been a flashpoint in US society for decades, including here in Montana. As the country looks at the legacy of the Stonewall Riots, we wanted to look at what rights LGBTQ people have in Montana. A recent report by the UCLA School of Law said that approximately 22,300 LGBTQ people n Montana are vulnerable to discrimination based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. What does this study mean?

What protections are there for LGBTQ people in this state?

In 2000, Gov. Marc Racicot issued an executive order prohibiting discrimination and harassment based on a person’s sexual orientation, but this order only applied to employment in state government. Subsequent governors have added to these protections. In January 2016, Gov. Bullock expended the protections to cover gender identity and included state contractors and subcontractors.

That is as far as it goes concerning LGBTQ protections in Montana. You will notice that nothing in state law prohibits private employers from discriminating against a person because they are a member of the LGBTQ community.

The only protections in Montana for those outside of state government are for people based on their:

  • Age
  • Marital status
  • Physical or mental disability
  • Race or national origin
  • Color
  • Religion or creed
  • Sex
  • Pregnancy status

It is important to note that Montana’s hate crime statute does not cover citizens based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.

This is an ongoing and emotional debate

Earlier this year, a bill that calls for legally protecting gender identity and sexual orientation under the Montana human rights act brought out many people in favor of and against the idea. House Bill 465 is sponsored by Rep. Kim Abbot, D-Helena and would add both gender identity and expression as well as sexual orientation to the protected classes in state law. A measure to make this change failed in the 2017 legislative session.

Ken Fitchtler, the governor’s economic development director, says that Montana’s policies have hampered business for the state. He says that some businesses have chosen not to come to Montana due to the state’s poor showing on equality indexes.

“When it comes to social issues, we are not even in this century,” said Fitchtler. “We should be welcoming everyone, period.”

One opponent of the bill, Anita Milanovich, represents the Montana Family Foundation and said that the bill would “Shit down freedom of speech by shutting down political opinion and discourse and would turn law-abiding citizens into ‘lawbreakers.’”

And there is the answer to our question:

Can you sue for an organization refusing service?

Right now, the only way an LGBTQ person can file a lawsuit for being discriminated against if the discrimination happens while they are working for state government or state government contractors. Any other business is free to discriminate against a person because of their sexual orientation or sexual identity. While this may not be in their best business interests, they have the right to do so without threat of criminal or civil legal repercussions.

Some localities in Montana do offer more extensive protections

LGBTQ people on Montana do have broader protections in some places around the state. The following municipalities have ordinances barring discrimination based on both sexual orientation or gender identity: Bozeman, Butte, Helena, Missoula, and Whitefish. Missoula County prohibits discrimination against county employees only.