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Billings City Council to look at non-discrimination ordinance again

Council member Brent Cromley makes request
Posted at 4:39 PM, Sep 10, 2019
and last updated 2019-09-11 16:22:17-04

BILLINGS — A Billings City Council member is asking the city to once again take up a non-discrimination ordinance, five years after a similar measure aimed at preventing discrimination against gay, lesbian and transgender people narrowly failed.

Council member Brent Cromley distributed a notice to other council members at the end of the Council's Monday meeting that he intended to bring a non-discrimination ordinance, known as an NDO, at the council's Oct. 14 meeting.

In his letter, Cromley said his aim was for city staff to the develop the language for a measure to be voted on during the Council's first November meeting, which falls on Nov. 4.

“I’m the one that indicated that we should give 24 hours notice for initiatives. And I’m being very generous. I’m giving you one months notice," Cromley told the Council.

Cromley provided a copy of the letter to Q2 Tuesday. He declined a request for an interview.

In August 2014, after weeks of debate, the Billings City Council voted 6-5 against the NDO. The measure
would have prevented discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodation on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.

Gay, lesbian and transgendered rights groups backed the measure, noting that similar ordinances in Helena, Missoula and Bozeman had passed with few problems. Certain religious groups, including the Montana Family Foundation, led the opposition.

After debate into the early morning, former Mayor Tom Hanel cast the deciding vote against the NDO, saying then that "Billings isn't ready."

Only three members of the current council were in office when that vote was made. Cromley was a yes vote, while Council members Shaun Brown and Mike Yakawich voted no.

Here is the full text of Cromley's letter to the Council:

Five years ago the Billings City Council, with a 6-5 vote, declined to adopt a non-discrimination ordinance (NDO) patterned after the ordinances in several other Montana cities. This was despite the fact that six months earlier the same Council had unanimously approved an initiative to have City staff bring to Council an ordinance based upon the NDOs adopted by those same Montana cities.

Many hours of testimony were presented in 2014, much of it based upon religious and moral values, and upon whether a need for an NDO existed in Billings. As a result of the defeat, Billings has become one of the few major cities in the country without protection for its LGBTQ community and, unfortunately, has acquired a corresponding reputation, which harms the City’s ability to grow, to compete with other cities, and to attract and retain residents, particularly the younger generations.

The attached form for an NDO is based directly on ordinances enacted in Bozeman, Helena, and Missoula. This initiative is not motivated by any altruistic motive, but upon the fact that having an NDO is vital if Billings wants to remain economically competitive.

Even the most conservative estimates indicate that 4 to 5 percent of the country’s population identify as being gay. If we assume that each gay person has an average of one other family member residing with them, it seems reasonable to assume that Billings is taking the position that it does not welcome nearly ten percent of the population. I know of no business where excluding a significant percentage of its customer base is a viable business strategy.

Making such a decision even more economically foolhardy, recent sources place the percentage of the population identifying as gay much higher. In particular, far more Millennials (persons now aged 23 to 38) identify as gay. A 2017 Harris poll reported that twenty percent of persons aged 18 to 34 identify as LGBTQ. A copy of an excerpt of that report is attached.

Currently, Millennials make up approximately one half of the nation’s work force. That figure is expected to grow to 75 per cent within the next ten years. Billings’ population is aging. It is vital that we make the City more attractive to younger generations.

The economics of the situation are what motivate my Initiative. Almost every major city in the country has a provision for protection of the LGBT community. Major corporations are going out of their way to emphasize that they welcome business from the LGBT community. Billings should learn from these examples. The lack of an NDO makes it even more difficult for Billings businesses to recruit and retain good employees, thus imperiling our economic future.

Had Billings passed an NDO in 2014, it is likely that no one outside the gay community would even be aware of it. Bozeman, Helena and Missoula have a combined history of 21 years experience with an NDO without a single complaint having been filed in their respective city courts.

The Billings City Council should move quickly to pass the same ordinance in effect in Bozeman, Helena and Missoula.