A few weeks ago, I volunteered at a dance for LGBTQ+ teens. About a half hour before the event started, I gathered all of the adult volunteers to have “the talk.” I wasn’t worried about this large group of teenagers misbehaving, vaping in the bathroom, or wandering into unauthorized areas of the building. That’s not what we needed to talk about.
Instead, I pointed to our possible escape routes. I showed them the exits and reminded them to always try to flee first. If you can’t flee, find a place to hide. I walked them to each closet, and showed them which doors were unlocked. I placed tables and garbage cans in front of the locked doors, hoping folks would instinctively avoid these instead of running into a dead end. We talked about how to barricade the doors, and what to grab if they had to fight.
This year, we tripled the number of adult chaperones, not because I expected more kids to attend or the kids needed more supervision. This year was different because we are less safe than ever before. The Montana Legislature has made it that way.
Anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric embraced by the Republican supermajority is resulting in real violence against us. Recently, a Great Falls woman was intentionally struck and pinned against a building. The motive for this attempted murder? Her gender identity. With this violence in mind, we had adults at every door, every exit, every elevator, in the hopes that if someone came to hurt us, we’d stop them before they got to the children.
In the days after the dance, friends casually asked, “How did prom go?” And my response?
“The kids had fun and no one tried to kill us.”
No one tried to kill us this time. No one tried to kill us today. But to be clear, they are trying to kill us. They’re doing so by inciting violence against us – with their words and with their laws.
I’ve worked on LGBTQ+ teen suicide prevention efforts for the past several years. That’s mostly done by hosting social events for these kids. We eat pizza and play Mario Kart. If one of the kids is having a problem, we talk about solutions.
These can be things like, “Johnny is getting bullied at lunch. Who else has this lunch period? Let’s make sure Johnny has some friends to sit with.”
The alarmingly simple truth is that queer kids need what straight kids need, too, – support from their peers and the adults in their lives. In fact, one supportive adult can make a life-or-death difference for an LGBTQ+ teen.
Sometimes the support they need is in the form of medical care. Gender affirming care can look like many things. For minors, it is often in the form of puberty blockers. The safety of puberty blockers has been well documented, and need not be re-hashed here. Gender affirming care itself has a regret rate of around 1%, which is astoundingly low. A patient is more likely to regret a knee replacement than they are gender affirming care. There is no medical reason to restrict this type of care, and contrary claims made by the Montana GOP are not backed by medical science in any way. Medical decisions should be made by the child, parent, and medical professionals involved. The Montana legislature has no place in making those decisions.
Every 45 seconds, an LBGTQ+ child attempts suicide. Without support, both familial, social, and medical, many LGBTQ+ kids don’t live to adulthood. Luckily, we know how to make these numbers go down. Combine that one supportive adult with appropriate medical care and more kids will live. Research shows that providing gender affirming care significantly reduces rates of suicide and depression. Take away that care, and you’ll have a state full of tiny coffins from kids who died begging for our help.
I’ve spent my fair share of nights sitting in the emergency room with scared parents and kids who don’t see a future where they can just be themselves. So, when I read that House Speaker Matt Reiger claims that Rep. Zooey Zephyr was using “violent rhetoric,” I’m not sure if I should laugh or cry.
As the entire country now knows, Rep. Zephyr was speaking against a law that would deny gender affirming care to minors, when she told lawmakers they would have “blood on their hands.” This turn of phrase is both wholly accurate and in no way a threat. Republicans, who are actively making me less safe, are now pretending to be victims and hiding under the guise of “decorum.” Yet, Reiger issued no such condemnation of poor decorum to the Montana Freedom Caucus when they intentionally and repeatedly misgendered Zephyr. (As did Great Falls’ own Senator Jeremy Trebas). Apparently rules only apply when you’ve made a Republican feel a shred of accountability for the harm they’re causing.
As Republicans spew vitriol against Queer people, kids are listening. Already, Montana’s anti-LGBTQ+agenda has resulted in queer kids trying to kill themselves. When SB 99 is signed into law, more LGBTQ+ children are going to die. People like Matt Reiger and Great Falls’ own Steven Galloway are denying them life-saving medical care, and inciting violence against the LGBTQ+ community. Montana Republicans have made themselves clear – they’d prefer a dead queer child to a living one.
Imagine having the gall to pass these devastating, discriminatory laws and then acting like a victim when someone calls you to account for it. This rings particularly hollow when I’ve just shown a group of adults where to hide the children should some bigot come try to shoot us. Be it inciting their constituents to violence or denying children medical care, Republicans will have us bleeding out in a closet.
When Rep. Zephyr says that the Montana GOP will have blood on their hands, she’s telling the truth.
By now we all know that Republican House Speaker Matt Reiger is putting Montana on the map by silencing Democratic Representative Zooey Zephyr for her plea to vote no on SB 99 on the House floor last week.
Let’s talk about SB 99 , the bill with a short title called, “Provide for a youth health protection act,” which I find rather ironic. Did the bill’s sponsor, Senator John Fuller, intentionally give this bill a name that does not correlate to its identity?
This bill does not protect transgender youth, but instead prohibits gender affirming care by medical professionals who treat minors for gender dysphoria by criminalizing health care professionals and prohibiting professional liability via insurance. Can you see the physicians leaving the state yet?
For a lot of reasons, I do not support this bill, but, most significantly, because I have a transgender nephew. It was a very painful process for my entire family, especially my nephew, to go through this transition. It wasn’t painful because my nephew was confused, it was painful in terms that we all had to learn a new way— new terms, a new person, a new appearance. We had to learn a new way to love and support my nephew, who fortunately, was given a gender-neutral name at birth, so that was one constant. It wasn’t as simple as checking a box, or waking up one morning and deciding that he was a boy. It was a process riddled with mistakes, despite lots of healthcare professional support.
I know my family’s experience was easy compared to what many other Montana families experience. My nephew grew up in San Diego where my brother lives, so, as you can imagine, the access to exceptional medical care that comes with a metropolitan city was readily available. The medical community was well prepared to walk us through the transition and provide family resources. And, my brother has excellent health insurance. Many transgender Montanans do not have decent insurance–especially with legislation aimed at erasing them. We were fortunate.
In our case, we made it a priority to hold an open-mind and go through this as an accepting and loving family—even when it seemed sort of crazy. Yes, it is weird to change pronouns. I remember asking my sister-in-law, “so now I can’t say niece, what do I say?” She effortlessly said, “Just say my brother’s oldest kid, leave the gender out.” That was before we learned the term “nibling.”
The awkwardness lasts a very short time and the new normal takes over, and you don’t even notice anymore. It just takes effort and, let me tell you, we fumbled and fucked up, but we were able to laugh at ourselves and be honest. I believe it has brought our family closer together because this experience showed us what is truly important—life, love, and the unconditional support of one another. The right to live and let live.
The Republican legislators in this body do not care how many lives are at stake by passing this bill. Not even a heartbreaking letter from an ER physician was enough to convince our Christian Montana governor to reconsider his deplorable position. The letter details the sad case of one Montana trans youth brought in after a failed suicide attempt, and who attributed their hopelessness to “my state doesn’t want me.”
My nephew was required to go through YEARS of therapy (with a licensed physician specializing in gender affirming care) and, only when it was determined that my nephew would absolutely benefit from different therapeutic interventions, were options offered. It wasn’t simply a primary care doctor and some prescriptions handed out. It was methodical, yet fluid, and the plan changed as new things developed. Only years after THAT was my nephew able to have “top surgery” – another term we had to learn, to have his breasts removed.
Gratefully, my nephew is now engaged to his life partner, and doing all the normal things that couples do. He has a job he loves and is living a full life in a community and family that honors and respects his life.
Transgender, nonbinary, and gender diversity is not something that citizens should meddle into, much less lawmakers. It should be left to the individuals, families, and medical professionals going through this experience. It has been painful, and provocative, to listen to some of the legislators testify so brazenly about a very sensitive, serious, personal issue. If the Governor, the Freedom Caucus, and the state Republicans (Glimm, Gist, Galloway, Sheldon-Galloway, Emrich, and McKamey) truly want to protect trans youth and LGBTQ+ kids as they claim, then they should take action to support Gender Health programs in the state. They could introduce legislation to study the needs of the LGBTQ+ and trans people, they could invite and encourage trained, compassionate physicians, social workers, mental health professionals and others to increase access for this specific group of individuals who deserve quality healthcare like ALL MONTANANS. Full-spectrum healthcare is not asking for too much!
Instead of seeking to erase transgender kids from Montana, perhaps Senator Fuller should look to his home state of Illinois for guidance. They just passed a law protecting people who provide or receive gender-affirming care.
Last Friday SB 99 was transmitted to Governor Gianforte to be signed into law, and, if signed, we can no longer refer to ourselves as the Last Best Place.
For basic information about Gender Dysphoria and a glossary of medical terms, check out the American Psychiatric Association page on Gender Dysphoria.I found this site to be a good reference, too.
This past week, I received a sickening postcard from Great Falls Republican Representative Lola Sheldon-Galloway. I’m assuming her message was in response to public comment I sent to the legislature about their continued attacks on LBGTQ+ Montanans. You can see an image of the bigoted, disturbing shit she is telling Montanans here:
In her postcard message, Lola stated, “In our confusing WOKE Culture defining sex is necessary to clarify GOD’S Truth – GOD created male + female in HIS IMAGE! I will continue to STAND for this ETERNAL TRUTH!”
Good grief, who are we letting create the laws in our state?
I’m not going to dive deeply into the logical fallacies of Lola’s statement. But I will point out that those are her personal religious beliefs, not eternal truths. “Christians” like Lola Sheldon-Galloway are openly comfortable claiming that they have a biblical mandate to occupy and control secular institutions. (Ironically, many evangelicals do not consider Lola Sheldon Galloway and her husband Steven to be Christian because they are Mormons. A fact that is apparently completely lost on the Galloways as they claim to represent the Christian perspective.)
Besides her evidenced lack of scientific knowledge, Lola apparently also lacks basic knowledge of our government’s founding principles. Because of their overt worship of the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, I assume Republicans are also aware of our First Amendment.
The First Amendment prohibits the government from “establishing” a religion and protects citizens’ right to practice their religion as they please. The United States was founded as a SECULAR nation. That means the separation of church and state is fundamental to our nation.
But our GOP-majority State Legislature and Republican Governor Greg Gianforte don’t give a shit about your religious beliefs if they aren’t in line with their White Christian Nationalism.
How is the religious extremism of our GOP government impacting Montana?
One way is via the Republican majority’s attacks on LGBTQ+ Montanans. Our Republican “leaders” have pursued a slate of anti- LGBTQ+ bills throughout this legislative session. When their relentless, hate-filled bills were called out for the death sentence they are to LGBTQ+ children, Republicans silenced their colleague Representative Zooey Zephyr. The Republican Speaker of the House has refused to let Representative Zephyr speak on the floor until she apologizes for her correct assessment of the harmful impacts of their hate. Representative Zephyr is a trans woman, which is relevant because of how her bullies are acting. In their public comments, numerous Republicans have misgendered her just to emphasize their cruel bigotry.
What is up with the Montana GOP’s slate of hate-filled anti-LGBTQ+ bills?
Sadly, many of these bills are close to being signed into law by our equally extreme governor. Our Great Falls legislators are doing nothing to slow these attacks. Instead they are all voting FOR this hate over and over again. Several active bills attacking LGBTQ+ Montanans are listed below.
These are shameful days for our state. Goodbye Montanan attitude of “live and let live.” Not any more. Not when representatives like Lola Sheldon-Galloway feel emboldened to let their religious beliefs lead their legislative actions.
Update: This story is still in progress. There have been reports of a broad title strike amendment to HB 774 to bring this primary proposal back to life. Stay tuned for the next round of partisan power grabs from our GOP legislators.
Republicans shelved their proposal to alter the way the U.S. Senate primary is run in Montana. As of April 19th, SB 566 is tabled in the Montana House. That means it’s likely dead.
A couple of weeks ago, we told you about the particularly egregious efforts of the Montana GOP to keep Senator Jon Tester out of the general election in 2024. The cowardly way they attempted to silence Montana voters was by changing the rules of how candidates advance to the general.
SB 566 would have required that the two candidates who receive the most votes in a primary election for a U.S. Senate seat advance to the general election irrespective of party affiliation. That would mean that, if two Republican candidates got more votes than a Democrat or Libertarian in the primary elections, then whoops-a-daisy – no Democrat nor Libertarian can be on the ballot in the general election.
Just a reminder, EVERY GREAT FALLS SENATOR VOTED FOR THIS PARTISAN POWER GRAB: Emrich, Fitzpatrick, McKamey, and Trebas.
So why did the Montana House vote so decisively to table the bill, when every Great Falls senator was on board? One of the Republicans on the House committee who voted to table the bill, Rep. Gregory Frazer, spoke to the press. “I have had a lot of my folks from back home reach out to me and ask me to vote no on this – a lot more than what I thought.”
There you have it! Thank you, public backlash! Shaming people into doing the right thing can work.
Yesterday, a press conference was held to announce the creation of the Election Protection Committee. This citizen group was created in response to the ineptitude of Sandra Merchant and the chaos happening within the Cascade County Clerk and Recorder’s office. Committee members Jane Weber and Pete Fontana delivered a public statement to the press. Their statements are transcribed below:
Jane Weber: Thank you for joining us today. I’m here with Pete Fontana.
We are here because elections in Cascade County are threatened.
The Cascade County Clerk and Recorder is not competent to do her job. She was recruited by the county’s new County Commissioner, Rae Grulkowski, to file for office. She won and now she’s in a panic because she does not know how to run an election.
Here is what we know:
Sandra Merchant presented her elections plan on March 31 st to more than 150 voters and the county commissioners; her plan was incomplete and lacked specificity. It created more questions than answers for voters. Even one commissioner questioned her rationale.
Sandra Merchant, when asked by one county commissioner and the Superintendent of School District 1, could not tell them what a poll election will cost those entities.
Sandra Merchant denied the Great Falls Public Schools from holding their traditional all-mail ballot election when mail balloting has successfully been done for decades!
Remember, elections for special districts like the School Districts, Irrigation Districts, Flood Districts or Library that are conducted by the county Elections Office must be paid for by the requesting entity. Yet, these entities are being forced to pay for a more expensive poll election when an all-mail ballot election has successfully worked for many years.
Sandra Merchant continually blames the Secretary of State’s new ElectMontana software for delays or problems in her office. When other counties were questioned about the software, we found their elections are moving forward on time without any major hitches. Can’t Sandra Merchant learn the system like everyone else?
Sandra Merchant hides behind County Commissioner, Rae Grulkowski, who attends almost every meeting with the Elections Official. You may recall, Commissioner Grulkowski attempted to stop voters from questioning Sandra Merchant at that March 31 st meeting by continually considering their question “not relevant.” The voters shouted her down several times so the voter’s questions could be asked.
Sandra Merchant allows her supporters to spread disinformation about offers made by the previous Election official to provide transitional training prior to Ms. Merchant’s swearing into office. THEN, when in office, Ms. Merchant NEVER ASKED FOR TRAINING from the Elections Office deputy until two days before she accepted a reassignment to another county Department.
Sandra Merchant continually confuses voters by flipflopping on her methodology – look at today! The required Public Test of the vote tabulator machine was originally scheduled for today, now it’s been moved to April 25 th . How did you find out? Certainly, not from the media, because Sandra Merchant never notified anyone, she merely posted it on the website.
Sandra Merchant couldn’t even pick up the phone until TODAY and call the Great Falls Public School Superintendent to notify him of the date change when his election is FIRST UP. When asked at county commission meeting, Commissioner Grulkowski said voters need to continually check the Election website for changes. With conditions constantly changing, how often must we do that, every hour?
Sandra Merchant, even after the Great Falls Public School District offered to help her, recruits election deniers to volunteer in the Election office. People who signed a 2022 petition proclaiming their rejection of the standing state and county election procedures. Specifically, those petition signers want to:
– ban all electronic voting equipment (excludes Automark machines)
– ban mail-in ballots except for overseas military, disabled or other qualified persons
– ballot turn in on election day only, with one day counting
– clean voter roles by requiring all qualified County residents to re-register”
AND THEN, Sandra Merchant allows those election deniers to work in the election office unsupervised. Why isn’t Sandra Merchant contacting the over 100 election judges to help in the election office? Election judges are trained and sworn to comply with election procedures, they are not elections deniers who reject the current election procedures.
Sandra Merchant hired a woman for her Election Office who was evicted from the 2020 November poll election by a county deputy attorney and deputy sheriff – evicted from this very hall – for violating poll watcher policies. Yes. She filmed the vote tabulator machine ON election day, a clear violation. That woman’s name is Deveraux Beatrice Biddick. She is second in command in the Election Office now. And, oh yes, she also signed that same petition renouncing current state and county election policies stated above. How does that happen?
Sandra Merchant attempted to change the June date for the library levy special election, a date that iscritically important if our library is to continue without reduced services.
And try to contact the Election Office?
Sandra Merchant does not accept or return telephone calls.
Sandra Merchant does not respond to emails.
THIS, FROM A WOMAN WHO CAMPAIGNED on the PROMISE OF TRANSPARENCY IN THE ELECTIONS OFFICE.
Where is the transparency????
How can the voters TRUST Ms. Merchant and her Election Office operations?
And now, let me turn the microphone over to Pete Fontana.
We are here today because a group of concerned citizens has banded together to demand accountability in the Elections Office. We are pleased to announce the creation of the ELECTION PROTECTION COMMITTEE, a citizen group that will continue to investigate, monitor, and demand transparency from Sandra Merchant.
Our goal is simple – to protect free and fair elections in Cascade County and to demand the resignation of Sandra Merchant.
The Election Protection Committee has already sent numerous requests for information to the County. We will continue to share our findings with the media and the public. Further, we are examining the legal recourse available to voters of Cascade County. We are committed to fighting voter suppression and defending our Democracy.
We will not allow Sandra Merchant to disenfranchise Cascade County voters.
How can you get involved?
1. If you are not already receiving information, sign up to receive alerts about operations and changes made in the Elections Office – like the date of the Public Test.
2. Wear our buttons in public and talk to friends and relatives about the irregularities occurring in the Elections Office.
3. Attend events, like the Public Test, so you are informed.
4. Sign up to receive Election Judge training on April 26 and April 28 training by stopping by the Election Office. We need GOOD, HONORABLE people to serve as judges at the upcoming poll elections.
5. Register with the Election Office to be a poll watcher and monitor the May 2 nd election in this very building.