Whitefish approves nondiscrimination ordinance

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Annika Gordon says she is gay and that doesn’t make her any less of a person.

“That doesn’t change my personality or my work ethic or my job performance,” she said. “There’s no reason people like me should be discriminated against in any way.”

Gordon was among a dozen people who stepped forward Monday asking the Whitefish City Council to pass a new law protecting people from discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

The council responded with unanimous approval of the first reading of the nondiscrimination ordinance. In turn, the audience of about 40 people gave a standing ovation.  

Council member Jen Frandsen said serving on the council means sometimes getting to be a part of doing good work.

“We do many good things, but this is great,” she said. “This is incredibly great.”

The nondiscrimination ordinance is intended to “establish a civil rights policy prohibiting discrimination on the basis of actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity or expression.”

No one spoke against the ordinance.

In December 2014, the council approved a community values resolution that declared the city’s intention to take a stance in support of diversity and inclusion. At the time the council said it would look into its options for a non-discrimination ordinance.

Council member Frank Sweeney, who largely spearheaded efforts to bring the law forward, said he’s proud of the “rock solid” ordinance.

“I could not be prouder of this community for the people who have showed up and have stayed after me and us to close the obvious gap in our ordinances for civil rights,” he said. “This sends a message to the world that we do not tolerate or condone hate.”

Under the ordinance, people claiming discrimination may bring a civil claim to municipal court, but first must establish that the Montana Human Rights Bureau will not pursue the case. If the bureau does not, the person has 90 days to file in municipal court.   

The ordinance specifically says it is not intended to abridge other rights, including protections of freedom of speech, freedom of association, and exercise of religion.

Under existing state and federal civil rights law, it is illegal to discriminate against individuals based on race, national origin, religion, sex, physical and mental disability, age, and familial status. Attempts to extend those same protections to lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender individuals have been unsuccessful in the Montana Legislature.

A handful of Montana cities have passed nondiscrimination laws based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

Missoula first adopted a nondiscrimination law in 2010 and Helena adopted a similar law in 2012, and Butte followed suit in 2014.

Bozeman adopted a nondiscrimination ordinance in June 2014.

The city of Dillon rejected a similar nondiscrimination ordinance in 2014. Billings also rejected a non-discrimination ordinance in 2014.

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