30 Years of Inspiring Hope
In honor of Pride Foundation’s 30th anniversary, we are partnering with StoryCorps—an organization that shares our commitment to documenting and preserving the rich oral history of the LGBTQ community across our region. Over the next year, we will be sharing the stories we’ve collected through our recently-launched series: What Happens Here.
Moneisha Harrell chats with transgender icon Marsha Botzer, nationally-recognized for her decades-long work advocating and fight for LGBTQ rights, particularly the rights of transgender individuals. Marsha and Moneisha share great observations, perspectives, and insights as to the current need for our work to happen across multiple issue areas and work together, in spite of differences for lasting change.
David Drake asks Raven E Heavy Runner, regionally-known Two Spirit activist, about his coming out and his experience understanding more deeply the the challenges and privilege of coming out at an LGBTQ person in rural or Native communities.
Raven and David – Transcript
Debbie and Cliff Schenk, whose son is gay, learn about the challenges of being an LGBTQ person in a rural community and share how they’ve become better allies by understanding his struggle.
Eran Thompson, National Not In Our Town board member, talks with Liz Welch of the ACLU about what they learned from the Billings non-discrimination ordinance campaign.
Liz: Well, that was something we heard over and over again, was, “Tell me how, you know, you’ve been discriminated against. Tell me, I – we – we need stories, and examples. Have you reported it?” And yet, there were people who went up and testified, who were like, “I won’t serve gay people!”
Liz: “I don’t want them in my business! I don’t want to do this!” But somehow those didn’t count as examples too, of how just, somebody would target someone who was, you know, LGBT.
Liz: And… and so… educating someone who doesn’t want to be educated or who doesn’t want to sit in that discomfort of their privilege. Because it’s really painful. I mean, you and I had a conversation over dinner and you busted me on something, and you, it was like, “That’s your privilege.” And you kinda gotta sit in it, because you have to own it. And that’s hard to hear as a straight, white, cisgender person. And if you don’t have that open mind to, to create that space… how do you, you know… how do you overcome that if you can’t do it through stories, and knowing people, and you know, I know the mayor said, “I’ve had a lot of gay friends, but…” which is always my favorite comment… Anytime you hear that word “but,” I think you should just realize that they’ve already put up that wall, and they’re not gonna recognize their privilege.
Pride Foundation board member Shelley Hayes and her good friend Becky Webber discuss what it felt like to testify at the City Council hearing, and the aftermath in the community after the legislation failed.
And… and then I said, okay, well, I’m gonna go, you know, ‘cause I was just sick to my stomach; it was just gross in there. And I went to leave, and it was downtown, and it was probably 7 or 8 at night; it wasn’t really that dark, kind of dusk, and my car was maybe a block away on, you know, one of the main streets, in front of the Montana Brew Pub, so it was, you know, a very public area, and I was terrified to walk to my car. And walking to my car with tears in my eyes, and shaking, and wishing that I would’ve asked someone to walk me to my car. [voice breaking] Because I thought, oh God, what if one of those crazy people followed me? Or if they had people monitoring who was coming in and out? And Damian was still at home, and so I’ve always really balanced trying to stand up and be out, and be brave in the community with being a single mom of two boys, and needing to protect them but also try to be a good role model that, you stand up for what’s right.
So… that was… awful. And just, I probably endured that for an hour, and there were people that were so brave that were there for hours and hours and hours every time the city council met. And I just don’t know how they did it. I just… I have so much admiration for them, and… and I… like I said, I did it for an hour. And then for still those city council people to say that they didn’t hear any real stories of discrimination… and that Billings wasn’t ready for it, and that our mayor, who had attended LGBT events, and said he supported our community, was the deciding vote to say Billings is not ready… I – it was just horrendous.
Second speaker: Yeah, I mean, for many, for many of my friends, identify as straight, so in the privileged community, even still were so disheartened by what happened with the nondiscrimination ordinance failing here. And, of course, appreciating the context of that, it had already passed in smaller, more conservative communities; the mayor, you know, had given the impression that he was supportive, so even if the city council was split, the assumption was that it would pass here. And so, as you said, so many people were brave in coming forward and telling their stories and identifying themselves in ways that they could then be discriminated against because of, not only because they were brave and probably would have done it anyways, but because we assumed this was going to be the catalyst to changing our community as it had been in many other communities, so when the ordinance failed because of the deciding vote by Mayor Hannell… it was just like a toxicity had spread through the community, and so many of us that were sickened by it felt really compelled to leave. And having that conversation about not wanting to be in this environment, in this energy, not wanting to raise children in this community if that’s what’s gonna be seething to the top of this community. But at the same time feeling conflicted, because if we all leave, then the community never changes, and so having, again, to make those decisions of, do you sort of let yourself marinate in this energy, hoping over time, your contribution to it changes things, or do you go, so that you can be somewhere that feels healthier and you feel like you can thrive in, and… I just think that it’s more of that kind of fragmented splitting in the choices that we hope ultimately leads to people being able to live wholeheartedly wherever they are, and in the meantime, you know, enduring the conflict.
This first set of stories explores the devastating loss that the LGBTQ community in Billings, Montana faced last August. After months of organizing by local community members, the Billings City Council voted down legislation to adopt a citywide non-discrimination ordinance—which would have protected LGBTQ residents from discrimination in employment, housing, and public accommodations. One year later, we want to acknowledge the bravery and courage of Billings’ residents who stood up for our community by sharing their stories.