Montanans are coming out to protest a new slate of anti-LGBTQ+ bills currently being considered in their state.
On Monday, dozens of Montanans gathered on the steps of the State Capitol in Helena to urge others to join them in contacting their representatives about voting against proposed anti-LGBTQ+ legislation in the state. They waved rainbow flags and carried signs that read "Let me be me!" and "I support the separation of church and hate."
One of the bills, The Religious Freedom Restoration act, has already passed the Senate. If made into law, it would allow people to challenge or ignore government regulations that they say interfere with their religious beliefs. The government would then have to prove "it's actions are justified by a compelling interest and are being accomplished by the least restrictive means possible" according to the Associated Press.
LGBTQ+ Montanans fear that the law would be used to challenge anti-discrimination ordinances that exist in some cities. Montana's Human Rights Act does not include protections based on gender identity.
"The folks in the building behind me were hoping they could steal your rights and no one would notice," Democratic senator Bryce Bennett of Missoula said. Bennett is the first out gay man elected to the Montana legislature. "There is too much on the line to sit on the sidelines," he continued. "We have to organize like never before."
The protesters were also opposing bills that would ban transgender girls and women from participating in school sports, would require trans people to get surgery and a court order in order to change the gender marker on their birth certificates, and one that would prevent doctors from performing surgery on minors to treat gender dysphoria, something that pediatricians said isn't happening in the state or anywhere else.
"The argument that these are about public policy or protecting youth or monitoring and regulating the healthcare industry ... is just false," Missoula-based lobbyist SK Rossi said. "They are about making lives harder for trans people. They're about pushing trans people further and further out of society, and pushing us out of Montana."
The bills in Montana are part of a greater trend in parts of the country, including the Great Plains, the South, and the Mountain West states. There are at least 108 bills being considered across the country that target LGBTQ+ people, including 71 specifically anti-trans bills.
Many of the bills are so-called "Religious Freedom" bills like in Montana. Over half of the anti-trans bills seek to restrict trans youth from participating in school sports and activities. Another 25 are aimed at preventing minors from receiving life-saving gender-affirming procedures.
Despite the overwhelming number of these bills, LGBTQ+ people and allies aren't ready to stop fighting. "We knew were just going to spend every waking hour trying to defeat the things they were going to come for us with," Kelson Young, executive director of the Montana Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence said.