Five anti-LGBTQ+ bills, including a so-called LGBTQ+ erasure bill and one restricting drag performances, are awaiting Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte’s signature or veto.
Gianforte, a Republican, last week signed into law a ban on gender-affirming care for transgender minors, even after his nonbinary son lobbied against it. That son, David Gianforte, has urged him to veto the other anti-LGBTQ+ bills as well. The Human Rights Campaign is also calling for vetoes of what it dubs “aggressively anti-LGBTQ+ bills.”
The “erasure” legislation, Senate Bill 458, would define sex based on reproductive characteristics — females would be defined by their ability to produce an egg and males by their ability to produce sperm, “under normal development.” Those who can’t do so because of a condition present at birth would be defined according to their “nonambiguous” genitalia, the bill reads. Intersex people would be assigned a gender based on the characteristic deemed predominant. The bill’s provisions would affect more than 40 sections of state law.
In an April conference call organized by HRC and the American Civil Liberties Union, activists said SB 458 would harm not only trans people but all women. The legislators behind the bill are “simply refusing to accept the concept that transgender individuals exist,” said Paul Smith, a professor at Georgetown Law.
Ria Tabacco Mar, director of the ACLU’s Women’s Rights Project, added that the bill is based on “impermissible stereotypes about the right way to be a woman” and could enable all sorts of sex discrimination, such as denial of employment to women with children.
It would also be devastating to Montana’s economy, said Akilah Maya Deernose, a staff attorney with the ACLU’s Montana affiliate. Federal agencies that fund state universities and other institutions have the right to deny money to those that discriminate, and if these agencies do so, it could cost the state up to $7.5 billion, half its annual budget, she said.
And it could pose a danger beyond Montana, activists warn. It could become a “framework for discrimination” in other states, notes an HRC press release.
The anti-drag bill, House Bill 359, would ban what it calls “adult-oriented performances” in schools and libraries that receive state funding and would specifically ban drag story hours, NBC News reports. It passed both the House and Senate Tuesday, shortly before they adjourned.
In the bill’s definition, a drag story hour is “an event hosted by a drag queen or drag king who reads children’s books and engages in other learning activities with minor children present.” It defines drag performers as those who appear in a “flamboyant or parodic” fashion “with glamorous or exaggerated costumes and makeup.”
The measure would also bar children from “sexually oriented or obscene performances on public property” and ban these performances “on public property where children are present.”
Republican Rep. Braxton Mitchell, the bill’s sponsor, said he saw a need to keep “hypersexualized” events out of taxpayer-supported venues. “Let kids be kids,” he told NBC. “I’ve asked this question from the beginning, why do these people want to dress half naked and read books to kids? Never got a single answer.” He did not answer a follow-up email asking him to cite any examples of a drag story hour with “half-naked” performers in Montana.
The bill’s opponents said it is too broad and could ban many types of performances. “Theater in schools and public libraries would be at risk with this bill the way it reads,” Democratic Sen. Shannon O’Brien, said Tuesday on the Senate floor, according to NBC. “Mrs. Doubtfire would not be allowed to be shown in public libraries.”
If the bill becomes law, violation would bring a fine of $5,000 and up to a year’s suspension of employment or credentials for school and library staffers. A second conviction would bring revocation of credentials.
Tennessee was the first state to adopt a law explicitly restricting drag performances. The law, which would impose criminal penalties for violation, is temporarily blocked while a court challenge to it proceeds. North Dakota has OK’d legislation originally aimed at drag shows, but it was softened to make only a few changes to the state’s obscenity statute.
Other anti-LGBTQ+ bills awaiting Gianforte’s action, HRC notes, are HB 303, “which allows medical providers to deny services to patients based on their personal beliefs rather than urgent patient needs”; HB 676, which “allows parents to withdraw students from public school if they disagree with the lesson plan of the day”; and SB 518, which “would allow schools to misgender and forcibly out transgender and nonbinary students.”
“The governor of Montana has an opportunity to stop this runaway legislation in its tracks. He should take it,” HRC Legal Director Sarah Warbelow said in the press release. “These bills will not accomplish any public good. All they will do is further discriminate against LGBTQ+ Montanans at a time when our community is under attack. Like millions of Americans who believe in equality, we are urging him to veto these bills.”