Windermere-2You don’t have to look far to see all the ways that the negative lies and misinformation being pushed out about transgender and gender non-conforming people across the country is clearly having a harmful impact. For transgender and gender diverse children and adults who already face discrimination daily, being subjected to heightened scrutiny and vilification as part of the public narrative has devastating effects.

Since North Carolina passed its discriminatory bill, calls to the Trans Lifeline crisis hotline have doubled. In Helena, though, one group is responding to this current climate of prejudice by exploring ways to best support the community.

In my many conversations with downtown Helena business owners—whether a part of the LGBTQ community or allies—they often share their strong commitment to equality and ask what they can do to support the LGBTQ community.

After two Montana trans youth died by suicide earlier this year, the answer to this question has become more important than ever.

As a result—and after much collaboration with local business owners Anna Doran, owner of Big Dipper Ice Cream, and Shalon Hastings, owner of Hub Coffee and Taco Del Sol—the Helena Supportive Business Project was born.

Since then, seven local businesses have signed on to participate in this newly-established group that will work closely with Pride Foundation to create a plan for moving forward. Currently, we’re working on a website and a window decal so the LGBTQ community can easily recognize supportive businesses as safe spaces that recognize and value them as human beings.

Two participants—Joanie More, owner of Murry’s, and Brianne Harrington, owner of Painted Pot—have already updated their bathroom facilities to gender-neutral facilities.

When asked what this change means for Murry’s, Joanie stated, “The change makes Murry’s a more welcoming cafe to all.”

For Brianne, this is an important step for her as an ally and as a small business owner in Helena.

Reflecting back on the various approaches she has taken to make Painted Pot more openly welcoming and supportive to the LGBTQ community, Brianne states, “This was our first opportunity to be specifically trans-inclusive. We see our employees as family, and a number of them have been either gay or gender non-conforming. I will always have their backs. I would never want a customer to feel unsafe or unwelcome—and being a visible ally reinforces that. I would like our community downtown, and Helena as a whole, to be seen as inclusive. The more I can do as a visible business owner, the more it supports that vision.”

Whether it’s advocating for gender-neutral facilities or placing stickers in windows to celebrate welcoming businesses, excitement about this project is growing amongst the project participants and beyond.

We look forward to continuing to meet with small business owners and have conversations about how they can help elevate the LGBTQ community in Helena—creating a more welcoming Montana for all LGBTQ youth, adults, and families.

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