Last week, I did something that could become a crime in Montana – I raised my hand, rolled up my sleeve and donated lifesaving blood to help a patient in need.
Introduced by Rep. Greg Kmetz, R-Miles City, House Bill 645 would criminalize both blood and organ donation in Montana by anyone who has received a COVID-19 vaccine. It would also make it a crime to receive blood or an organ from a person vaccinated for COVID.
Simply put, this bill would have a devastating impact on our blood supply, our hospitals and patient care across the state. Experts estimate that if it passes, this measure would reduce Montana’s blood supply by 80 percent and have life-and-death consequences for so many who depend on these products being available on hospital shelves. Every two seconds, someone in this country needs lifesaving blood, whether it be a cancer patient, an expecting mom, an accident victim or someone undergoing surgery. Politics shouldn’t get in the way.
Blood can’t be manufactured – the only way to meet patient demand is through the generosity of blood donors. Encouraging people to put a needle in their arm and help someone they don’t know is difficult enough without criminalizing this altruistic act. Blood banks already struggle to meet current needs, and HB645 would have very real and very dire consequences for all of us and our loved ones.
HB303, presented by its proponents as a bill to provide protections to medical practitioners, healthcare institutions, and healthcare payers based on their conscience, presents a real and imminent danger to the health and wellbeing of Montanans. This bill doesn’t just provide for all of these entities to refuse to participate in certain crucial aspects of medical care (with its primary focus being abortion). It also requires that those who are willing to provide these services provide affirmative consent, in writing, prior to being requested or assigned to participate in these services in any way.
This bill is dangerous on many levels. First, and perhaps most obviously, it limits the care available to Montanans. The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology describes abortion as “an essential component of comprehensive, evidence-based health care.” This bill represents another step to limit access to this critical aspect of healthcare. Abortion is healthcare and should be treated as any other aspect of healthcare would be. Allowing healthcare entities to refuse to provide this service has serious, and potentially fatal, consequences.
In a case cited by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) which, under the Trump administration, passed a rule similar to the one currently being considered, abortion services were denied to a patient carrying a nonviable pregnancy. The patient, Tamesha Means, presented to the only hospital within 30 minutes of her – a Catholic hospital. She was 18 weeks pregnant and went into early labor. She was not advised that her pregnancy was likely nonviable, nor was she offered the (medically appropriate) treatment option of terminating her pregnancy. Instead, she was discharged home with pain medication and told to keep her scheduled followup appointment the next week. She returned to the hospital the following morning with a fever and severe pain. Despite her treating physician’s suspicion that she had a severe infection which could result in her infertility or death, she was again discharged home. She returned to the same hospital for the third time that night with severe, painful contractions, and as the hospital was preparing to discharge her home for the third time, she delivered a baby that lived only for a few short hours. Several years later, she sued the Conference of Catholic Bishops, something that the HHS described as an attempt to coerce organizations into performing abortions against their will.
As a healthcare worker with a lifetime of experience providing care to patients facing emergent and acute illnesses, I can say with confidence that the care she received was substandard by any definition. A patient presented with a severe, life-threatening emergent medical problem – a problem which has a clear and appropriate course of treatment: termination of the pregnancy. However, the organization and its employees, based on religious beliefs, failed to provide her with appropriate care. They endangered her life and wellbeing. HB 303 would allow organizations and healthcare providers in Montana to not only refuse to provide this type of medically appropriate care, it would also allow them to refuse to refer the patient to other sources for this care. In a state with already limited resources, this further narrows the options that patients are given to receive the most appropriate care.
The Lancet, among the oldest and most respected journals in the medical community, put it best when they said, “The Justices who vote to strike down Roe will not succeed in ending abortion, they will only succeed in ending safe abortion. Alito and his supporters will have women’s blood on their hands.” HB303 represents yet another insidious attempt to rob women of reproductive rights and access to safe, evidence-based, medically appropriate healthcare.
Dr. Kate Eby is a dually certified Family and Adult Geriatric Acute Care Nurse Practitioner. She received her masters degree from MSU-Bozeman and completed her doctorate and post-doctoral studies at the University of Colorado. She has practiced in a variety of acute care and inpatient settings. She is also a Certified Nurse Educator through the National League for Nursing, and teaches at the undergraduate and graduate levels.
I’ve never done drag—unless you count the floor-length robe and colorful stole I wear every Sunday when I preach. Sometimes I think it could be fun (I’ve even got my drag name picked out: “Pauline Epistle”), but I know it is far more work than I am prepared to commit to. It’s also, apparently, extremely dangerous.
In Montana, as in over a dozen states, legislation is moving forward to ban or severely restrict drag performances. These bills mischaracterize drag as inherently sexual in nature, “appealing to prurient interest.” That’s the language of Representative Mitchell’s HB359, which passed its second reading in the Montana House this week.
I recently got a chance to chat with my senator, who is one of the bill’s co-sponsors, about why he chose to attach his name to it. He gave the usual talking points, saying that the intention was to protect children from “sexualization.” It’s the same impulse that’s behind the recent surge book-banning and educator-muzzling rhetoric and policy. Save the children; protect their innocence from the perversions of our culture.
When I asked my senator if he had ever attended a drag show, he told me that he had not, which I imagine is true of most of the people backing the bill. (Although it’s always possible one of them might have had a past life as a drag performer in South America, I suppose.)
If they had, they might realize that nine times out of ten, particularly in the case of all-ages shows, drag performers have more in common with clowns and ballerinas than with actual adult entertainment performers, which HB359 tries to paint them as.
But, of course, this has never been about protecting children’s innocence. The same people concerned about the psychological damage a child might experience witnessing a man in a colorful dress read a storybook about being kind to people have no problem telling the same child that unless they pledge their eternal servitude to an invisible being who watches their every moment and knows their every thought, they will be tortured for all eternity—out of love.
The real reason they want to ban drag performances from the public sphere is because drag, emblematic of queerness itself, is a threat to entrenched systems of power.
In a recent legislative committee for Montana SB234, discussion about how we define obscenity led to the point being made that the Bible itself could easily fit the category of obscene literature.
Ezekiel contains language more explicit than even the bawdiest drag show I’ve ever seen, and it does so for the purpose of prophetic critique. The prophet uses a graphic analogy of adultery to denounce Israel and Judah for their dalliance with Assyrian and Babylonian empires, respectively. (In a similar manner, today’s prophets have rightly pointed out that much of the American church is ‘in bed’ with White Nationalism).
Likewise Isaiah walked around naked for three years, and Jeremiah paraded around with a pair of dirty underwear, disrupting norms and provoking shock and disgust.
The Hebrew prophets were the original performance artists.
The intersection of artistic expression and social critique terrifies those with vested interests in maintaining authoritarian control. As Bible scholar Walter Brueggemann says in The Prophetic Imagination: “every totalitarian regime is frightened of the artist. It is the vocation of the prophet to keep alive the ministry of imagination, to keep on conjuring and proposing futures alternative to the single one the king wants to urge as the only thinkable one.”
Drag is dangerous for that very reason. It points out the farce of rigid black-and-white—or rather, pink-and-blue—thinking and imagines a rainbow of possibility for God’s beloveds. We really are all born naked, and the rest—as Mama Ru says—is drag.
We are not so far off from the 1960s, when trans people and drag artists could be arrested just for existing in public, experiencing grotesque violence at the hands of the state. The violence is still happening, emboldened by the increase in hateful legislation and political rhetoric.
It was drag queens and trans people leading the charge in those days, sparking a revolution that would transform the country and make it safe for people like me to be fully myself. Now it is up to the rest of us to stand with them, speak out against the fear and hate, and celebrate the joy and the beauty that queer people bring to our world.
I have little reason to believe those trying to legislate queer and trans people out of existence will have a change of heart and relent from their “slate of hate.” But that just means my calling to speak out on behalf of the marginalized, to imagine a world where everyone has what they need, is as clear as it has ever been.
And if I need a refresher course in the prophetic vocation, I’ll find a big, scary Drag Queen and let her spill the tea.
Rev. Stephen Underwood is an ordained minister in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), serving a congregation in Great Falls, MT. The above opinions are exclusively his own.
Before we get into the meat of some concerning personnel changes at the Cascade County Clerk and Recorder’s office, we need to remind ourselves that hiring political cronies and firing or harassing people because they worked for political opponents is illegal. Got that?
Since defeating long-time Clerk and Recorder Rina Moore by a mere 31 votes, Sandra Merchant has begun remaking the office to fit her conspiracy-laced agenda. First, Election Supervisor Lynn Deroche, who has worked in the Clerk and Recorder’s office for 16 years, has taken another job in county government at a much lower salary. It’s not clear whether she resigned or was fired. Deroche said that she provided notice that she was resigning after being frozen out of interoffice communication by Merchant.
As an example, Deroche said she was not allowed to participate in interviews to fill an open election specialist position, a position she supervised. Deroche said that after a month of being isolated in the office and just three days before she was scheduled to leave her position, Merchant asked her to explain how to conduct some up-coming elections. Deroche says she told Merchant three days was not enough time to teach Merchant how to administer an election. Some time later Deroche says she was summoned to the Human Resources Office and told she did not need to return to the Clerk and Recorder’s office but would still receive her last couple of days’ pay. End result is that the election supervisor job has been left vacant.
New Election Specialist – Connection to Merchant and Commissioner Grulkowski
In the meantime, interviews proceeded to fill an elections specialist position in the office. There was an applicant who was already in a temporary position in the office. She subsequently withdrew her application. The job was listed with the County Human Resource Office. County Commissioner Rea Grulkowski andSandra Merchant were interviewers.Grulkowski, who also came into office in the last election, is an election denier who’s bizarre conspiracy theories were the subject of a New York Times article in October of 2021. (WTF 406 covered Grulkowski’s conspiracy theories and the New York Times piece in a previous article https://wtf406.com/2022/09/facts-no-match-for-fear-in-county-commission-race/ )
When the election specialist interview process was completed, the position was given to Devereaux Biddick. WTF406 has previously written about Biddick’s participation in the election denier group active in Cascade County. Last fall we reported, “On July 29 County Commission candidate Rae Grulkowski was back in front of the County Commission, this time presenting a letter from Devereaux Biddick. In this letter Biddick alleged that the county primary election did not conform to standards set by the Secretary of State. She requested two precincts be ‘reviewed for reconciliation.’”https://wtf406.com/2022/09/the-big-lie-in-cascade-county/
The election specialist job which Biddick received has starting pay of almost $40,000 per year and includes a full benefit package. The qualification statement for the position included a High School Diploma, GED or HSE, and three years of progressively responsible office experience in a team environment that preferably includes one year in an election-related environment and one year of legal experience and terminology.
WTF406 does not have access to Biddick’s application materials yet, but we would certainly hope that her experience dogging county officials with election fraud mythology was not included as “relevant” experience for the elections specialist position. That would be kind of like putting a flat earther in charge of NASA.
Is This Just the Beginning?
The fact is that recently elected County Commissioner Grulkowski and Clerk and Recorder Merchant, who have worked extensively together on their election denier mythology prior to being elected, have now offered a full-time permanent position to a friend of theirs who worked on the same effort. Biddick could be just the beginning of Sandra Merchant’s opportunities to move her cronies from the election denier crowd into government jobs at the Clerk and Recorder’s Office. The election supervisor job will be open thanks to Deroche’s resignation. In addition, the office has traditionally hired additional temporary employees to help during the election cycle.
We began this article by pointing out that this kind of cronyism is illegal. Specifically, the Governmental Code of Fair Practices prohibits discrimination in government employment based on political beliefs. If any of the unsuccessful applicants for the position decided to file a complaint under that law and won, we would all get to pay for the insider dealing of our newly elected county officials. We’ll stay tuned and keep watching.
The 2023 Legislative session is shaping up to be one of the ugliest in living memory. Bills attacking Indigenous Peoples, medical privacy, LGBTQ+ children, and the poor have dominated the session. And today, in yet another show of ignorance, Republicans tabled Senator Shane Morigeau’s bill to recognize Indigenous People’s Day.
Attempts to change the name of Columbus Day have been made at the state, local, and national level for years. So today, I’m sharing a piece from Rylee Mitchell, who wrote this piece as a Teen Columnist for the Great Falls Tribune in 2017. At the time, the requested change was for “Montana Heritage Day” to replace Columbus Day, a measure which also failed. Though this piece is nearly six years old now, Montana decided again today to continue honoring the rapist and genocidal murderer, Christopher Columbus.
This piece was written by Rylee Mitchel and published by the Great Falls Tribune on February 27, 2017.
“Columbus Day or Montana Heritage Day — the name of the holiday might not mean much to you, but to me, as a Native American, it matters quite a lot.
And it’s not just the name of the holiday but also how we teach Native American history in our schools. Learning about Columbus Day involves taking 10 minutes to go over the day he reaches America and how he sailed the ocean blue in 1492 in search of gold, spreading Christianity along the way. Then we jump to Thanksgiving and then to Lewis and Clark with nothing in between. No discussions about boarding schools, wars or mass killings. Native American history gets left in the past.
Let’s not forget that Columbus paved the way for the wicked and cruel murder and rape of the indigenous people.
We are people who don’t deserve to live in the Europeans’ shadow. We deserve to have our stories told in the history books just like everyone else.
By not properly educating people about Native American history, it makes them much less likely to relate to us and understand us. They think we aren’t like everyone else.
Because of the color of our skin? Because we should be on a reservation?
Ignorance leads to name calling like redskin, Pocahontas and war heads. We aren’t depicted as real people in pictures, just as fictional characters.
“All that Native Americans gave us was land and diseases.”
“Native Americans killed us, like the holocaust.”
“God gave the Indians Europeans to help them.”
I heard all these comments and more when we talked about Native Americans in class last year.
Native Americans still deal with the mass killings of the past. The times when the men went to get food and came back to find all the women and children killed and the camp burned. We deal with the history of boarding school rapes and abuse and the sterilizing of Native American women.
Our tribal members still must cope with all these things, and the drinking that can come with it. We are still getting hurt, stereotyped and treated like we aren’t human. We are lucky we are still here.
Changing the name of this holiday would give a voice to Native Americans and represent a step forward to understanding our culture. We deserve for our history and stories to be told in schools. Education leads to more understanding and fewer labels and stereotypes.
We are human. We deserve to have our story told.”
Rylee Mitchell is an enrolled member of the Little Shell Tribe of Montana. Rylee is from Great Falls, Montana. Rylee is currently studying Civil Engineering at Montana Tech in Butte, Montana.