Yesterday, City Commissioner Rick Tryon’s hate-blog “E City Beat ” published a letter from William Ross. Ross was previously featured on our blog after he protested the Great Falls Pridefest with a sign reading “Fags Deserve Oppression.” Ross yelled at families and attempted to start altercations as people walked by him. Ross even gave an interview to a local news station in which he lauded LGBTQ+ suicide. To the shock of no one, Commissioner Tryon has sided with this hateful bigot.
There are some misrepresentations in E City Beat’s article that need to be addressed. Firstly, I am not on the Board for the Great Falls LGBTQ+ Center and did not organize Pridefest. My term on the Board ended about 2 years ago. I continue to support and promote Center events, but my presence at Pridefest was solely as an attendee. Pridefest was amazing and a lot of folks put a ton of work into making it happen. It is unfortunate that William Ross tried to ruin the event with his hatred.
In his letter published by E City Beat, Ross claims that he was assaulted twice at the event. To be clear, Ross was armed with a gun and screaming at people. When Ross tried to start an altercation with a man using the crosswalk, I physically got in front of Ross, while a security volunteer pulled the other man away. Although Ross was the instigator, I did not want hundreds of families at Pride to witness any violence. The below photo was sent to me by a Pride attendee. It shows me and a security volunteer walking Ross away from the altercation. This incident, and Ross’s following verbal threat, was reported to the police.
Now Ross is claiming that his free speech was infringed after his employer, Culligan Water, terminated him. This claim shows a fundamental misunderstanding of our Constitutional right to free speech. Our speech is protected from government interference and punishment (with some caveats around hate speech which incite violence.) Freedom of speech is in no way freedom from consequences. Private sector businesses are indeed allowed to enforce codes of conduct. Businesses are concerned with their profits, and employee conduct that may lose them business is often a terminable offense. That’s Capitalism baby. Ross was absolutely allowed to use his freedom of speech and his freedom to protest. Now he’s suffering consequences for his choice to behave like a hateful unhinged bigot.
However, more concerning is the choice for Commissioner Rick Tryon and Phil Faccenda to give Mr. Ross a platform. In his letter, Ross argues that people should be allowed to voice their opinions. Mr. Ross was indeed allowed to do so. If your opinion is that a marginalized group of people deserve oppression we have a term for that- discrimination. How is it appropriate for an elected city commissioner to promote discrimination and normalize hate speech? If Mr. Ross had made racial, ethnic, or religious slurs, would Tryon still be giving him a venue for his hate?
As evidenced by the activity of the White Lives Matter movement in Great Falls, there are citizens who believe that Jewish people should be eliminated. There are people who believe that the White race is superior and that all other ethnicities deserve genocide. Are they free to make these statements? Yes, to a degree, inasmuch as they are not actively inciting violence. But should a city commissioner be giving them a platform to promote this hateful ideology? I, for one, think that Tryon’s actions here conflict with the Official Code of the City of Great Falls Code of Ethics 2.21.020(B) and 2.21.030 (B) (C) (D) which read:
B. The vitality and stability of representative democracy depends upon the public’s confidence in the integrity of its elected and appointed representatives
[…] Such ethical standards shall inspire and stimulate each officer and employee to […]
B. Affirm the dignity and worth of the services rendered by the government and maintain a constructive, creative, practical attitude toward urban affairs and a deep sense of social responsibility as a trusted public servant;
C. Be dedicated to the highest ideals of honor and integrity in all public and personal relationships so that each public servant may merit the respect and confidence of elected officials, of other officials and employees, and of the public; and
D. Recognize that the chief function of local government at all times is to serve the best interests of all of the people
And examining the Ethical Standards section:
A. No officer or employee of the City of Great Falls shall have an interest in a business organization or engage in any business, transaction, or professional activity which is in substantial conflict with the proper discharge of his or her governmental duties
D. No officer or employee shall undertake any private employment or service which might prejudice his or her independent judgment in the exercise of his or her official duties.
City Commissioner Rick Tryon, through his blog E City Beat, has a significant history of attacking both public figures and private citizens alike. How is it appropriate for a city commissioner to continuously attack the citizens he is elected to represent? Perhaps Mr. Tryon needs reminding that he is duly obligated to represent the best interest of all citizens, even if they’re Queer.
First, we stole the rainbow from God. Today, the LGBTQ+ community celebrated yet another victory.
Braxton Mitchell’s own hateful words have come back to bite him as a judge temporarily blocked Montana Drag Ban- HB359. Several plaintiffs, including Two-Spirit author, Adria Jawort and the Great Falls LGBTQ+ Center, have filed suit over the new law, arguing that the ban is unconstitutional. Adding fuel to these claims, the city of Helena failed to approve permits for next weekend’s planned Pride parade prompting Montana Pride to join the lawsuit as well.
In today’s ruling, Judge Morris cited Representative Mitchell’s own words to prove the discriminatory intent of his bill. Morris writes,
Plaintiffs highlight […] that Representative Braxton Mitchell’s introduction in support of H.B. 359 justified the legislation on the basis that drag shows expose children to ‘mature themes’ and ‘inappropriate activities,’ purportedly risking that children ‘adopt and accept certain stereotypes or attitudes,’ ‘creat[ing] an inadequate understanding of gender roles’ and ‘damag[ing] [children’s] long-term social and emotional development.’
Judge Morris confirms what members of the LGBTQ+ community have said all along. The intent of this law has always been discrimination. Representative Mitchell spent the last legislative session making hateful and misinformed comments about the Queer community and pushing bills that will now cost Montana taxpayers. Each time the state passes an unconstitutional law, taxpayer funds are used to defend that law in court. And although I’ll never tire of watching Attorney General, Austin Knudsen, lose in court, the reckless waste of our tax dollars should outrage Montanans.
After today’s ruling, the city of Helena has indicated they will issue all necessary permits. The lawsuit against HB 359 has its next hearing set for August. In the meantime, we’re going to keep celebrating Pride.
Check out all the Montana Pride activities here: https://montanapride.org/
Pride month has come and gone, but the consequences for a local bigot are just beginning. The Great Falls LGBTQ+ Center hosted its first annual Pride Fest on June 24, 2023. The event featured performers, a slam poetry contest, food vendors, and numerous local artists and businesses. Focused on family fun and inclusion, hundreds of community members joined in the fun.
The only blight on an otherwise lovely day was a single angry man. Holding a sign that read, “F*gs Deserve Oppression” the lone “protestor” walked the perimeter of the Festival. He alternated between blowing a whistle and screaming slurs at passersby. A Festival volunteer followed a few paces behind the man in an attempt to prevent any violence. But violence was clearly what this man was after.
After sharing photos and videos on social media, numerous citizens wrote in identifying the man as William Ross. Research shows that Ross is a Great Falls local and a
“Master Mason” at the Euclid Lodge No. 58 AF & AM. The Lodge’s facebook page shows Ross on the right in their cover photo.
The universe loves irony, and Ross was previously quoted in an article about the Masonic temple. Ross states, “Yeah, that we’re [Masons] a bunch of devil worshippers, child sacrifice, goat ridden’ degenerates. That is the farthest from the truth in every way possible.”
The Freemasons themselves seem to preach a different ideology than the hate displayed by Ross. Euclid 58’s website describes the Freemasons, writing, “ Masons represent virtually every occupation and profession, yet within Freemasonry, they all meet as equals. Masons come from diverse political ideologies, yet meet as friends. Masons come from varied religious beliefs, yet all believe in one God, in religious tolerance, and in individual freedom of thought and conscience.”
You can read about the lodge (and even CONTACT THEM) by accessing their website here: https://euclidlodge58.com/aboutMasons.html
As Pridefest went on, Ross’s behavior escalated. Eventually Ross yelled at citizens crossing the street and engaged in a physical altercation with a man leaving the event. Despite his bravado, Ross immediately began screaming “I’m being assaulted.” Dear readers, Ross was in no way being assaulted. Rather, I put myself in front of Mr. Ross while a volunteer pulled the other man away. After this incident, Ross told Pridefest volunteers that he had a weapon and was willing to use it if he felt “threatened.” Ross was calling people “f*ggts” – it’s quite clear that he was not the one being threatened. One volunteer believed they saw Ross with a gun, at which point the police were called and a report made. Ross left shortly thereafter.
Although Ross openly marched with his sign and even interviewed with a local news station, he then requested his face be hidden for the interview. Most assuredly, Ross has the legal right to yell slurs at people he hates. However, freedom of speech is not freedom from consequences.
After Ross was identified, WTF406 reached out to his employer, Culligan Water. Culligan’s website lists the company’s “Commitments” with #4 reading “Increasing diversity, equity, and inclusion.” Read our correspondence with Culligan below:
Culligan Great Falls Telephone: (406) 761-5050
I write for What The Funk 406, a blog that covers local politics. I am also a member of the LGBTQ+ community, and on June 26, 2023, I attended Great Falls Pride Fest. During this event, a lone individual carried a sign reading “Fags Deserve Oppression.” The man yelled slurs and his behavior eventually escalated to the point that he had to be physically separated from event attendees.
I took the attached video and also shared pictures of the individual on social media. Multiple community members reached out and identified this man as William Ross. Some of the folks that contacted us recognized Ross as a Culligan employee. They also expressed concern about Ross delivering water to their businesses.
A quick look at the Culligan website shows the company has multiple “Commitments.” Commitment #4 reads, “Increasing diversity, equity, and inclusion.”
With this commitment in mind, we request your response to the following questions:
Is Culligan aware of Mr. Ross’s behavior on June 26, 2023?
Does Culligan share Mr. Ross’s view that “Fags deserve oppression?”
Further, should LGBTQ+ community members such as myself feel safe doing business with Culligan and allowing such employees into our offices and homes?
I appreciate your time and will happily answer any questions you may have about the attached photos and video.
As of this evening, WTF406 has received no response from Culligan.
The man identified as William Ross held this sign during Pridefest.
This video shows Ross screaming at Pridefest attendees
The Great Falls LGBTQ+ Center has joined a lawsuit challenging House Bill 359, sponsored by Braxton Mitchel (R-HD3). Montana was the first in the nation to ban costumed performers reading to children. Despite widespread opposition and warnings that the bill would not hold up to judicial scrutiny, Governor Gianforte signed the bill into law. Now the poorly written ban is being challenged in court. Montana citizens and organizations assert the bill is a violation of their rights. Once again, Montana taxpayers will foot the bill as the state defends yet another blatantly unconstitutional law.
Read the full press release from Upper Seven Law below:
*Teachers, artists, and businesses bring suit to prevent censorship and protect Montanans’ First Amendment rights**
[HELENA, MONTANA] On Thursday, June 6, 2023, a group of individuals and organizations, including Billings Public School teacher Rachel Corcoran, trans advocate Adria Jawort, The Myrna Loy and the Montana Book Company in Helena, Imagine Nation Brewing in Missoula, and the Great Falls LGBTQ+ Center, among others, filed suit to challenge the constitutionality of a Montana law targeting drag performers.
In May 2023, Governor Greg Gianforte signed House Bill 359 (“HB 359”) into law, banning “drag story hours” and a plethora of other conduct seemingly related to dressing and performing in drag. The bill’s sponsors meant to stop drag queens from leading story hours in schools and libraries. But the bill goes much further. And the result is a law that is as stupid as it is sinister.
For example, HB 359 defines “drag queen” to include women and girls dressed as Disney princesses and “drag king” to include cowboys and male superheroes. HB 359 prohibits reading to children in a library or classroom in any costume with a discernible gender.
And that’s not all. Claiming a desire to protect children, the bill attacks all Montanans’ First Amendment rights. It defines “stripping” to include removing or pretending to remove clothing, even if nudity does not result; it criminalizes the display of critically acclaimed PG-13 and R-rated films in independent theaters, even to audiences who are over 18; and it treats natural cleavage differently than prosthetic cleavage, even a mastectomy survivor’s prosthetics.
“Drag has long been an important artistic and cultural expression,” said Chelsia Rice, co-owner of Montana Book Company, a Helena-based business challenging the law. “This law wrongly targets the constitutionally protected speech of performers, artists, authors, and other Montanans.”
“As a public educator, I wear costumes to get students engaged,” Rachel Corcoran, a Billings Public School teacher and plaintiff said. “The legislature was so worked up about the perceived threat of drag story hours that it didn’t consider the collateral damage. Now I can be prosecuted and lose my teaching certificate for showing creativity in the classroom.”
A copy of the complaint filed with the Court is attached to this press release. A file-stamped version will be available on request.
About Upper Seven Law:
Upper Seven Law is a Montana-based nonprofit law firm dedicated to holding the powerful accountable. Based on the belief that creativity and innovation in law are essential to advancing social justice and public interest objectives, Upper Seven takes smart risks and invests the time necessary to build foundations for long-term accountability work.
About the individual plaintiffs
Adria Jawort is a transgender woman, a member of the Northern Cheyenne Tribe, and a published author. She regularly speaks to libraries and other organizations across the State of Montana about Two-Spirit and transgender issues.
Rachel Corcoran is a teacher in Billings Public Schools. In her role as a teacher, she has dressed up as many different male and female characters to connect with students, enhance learning, and build community. By the terms of HB 359, she is a “drag queen” or “drag king” participating in “drag story hour” at such times. Thus, she faces criminal penalties, lawsuits, and revocation of her teaching certificate.
About the organizational plaintiffs
Imagine Nation Brewing Company is a brewery and community center located in Missoula, Montana. Imagine Nation has hosted and plans to again host drag shows and drag story hours on-premises.
The Center is Western Montana’s LGBTQ+ community center, which offers community events, health and public safety support, and space for LGBTQ+ individuals, groups, and communities to meet and provide programming. The Center recently produced Missoula Pride, an annual event that celebrates the LGBTQ+ community, and includes storytelling, dancing, a parade, and drag performances.
The Great Falls LGBTQ+ Center aims to enhance and sustain the health and well-being of the LGBTQ+ community through activities, programs, and services. It organizes events featuring drag performances for all audiences, including Pride.
BumbleBee Aerial Fitness is a fitness studio located in Helena, Montana. BumbleBee teaches aerial arts, choreography, and pole fitness to students.
The Imperial Sovereign Court of the State of Montana is a Montana-based nonprofit that educates and advocates for LGBTQ+ individuals and allies through the production of community-based drag performances that explore multiple gender expressions in an entertaining and educational atmosphere and create a safe and welcoming environment.
The Montana Book Company is an independent LGBTQ+-owned bookstore in Helena, Montana. The Montana Book Company aims to create an open and inclusive community space for marginalized populations in Montana. The Montana Book Company has hosted and plans to continue to host age-appropriate drag shows open to the public.
The Myrna Loy, Helena’s premiere arts and culture center, is an independent movie theater, performance space, source of city-wide arts education, and community arts instigator.
Senator Theresa Manzella is no stranger to controversy, and although she lives in Hamilton, she’s no stranger to Great Falls. Manzella is the leader of the “Freedom Caucus,” an extremist group of Republican Representatives, including Great Falls Rep. Steven Galloway. Manzella has spent the past three years repeating the Big Lie- claiming the 2020 election was stolen. (https://montanafreepress.org/2022/01/25/republican-minority-presses-for-election-investigation-in-court-of-public-opinion/?fbclid=IwAR2GpI3RcyyyXgbP985DcKfCrji4sYNMYUg3tnmhvG1kAF2VHEzKAI88k14)
This delusion has been repeatedly disproven, but Manzella and the Great Falls Pachyderm Club haven’t changed their tune. Instead, Manzella continues to travel the state speaking with groups of MAGA Republicans. Known for her aggressive tactics and violent rhetoric, Manzella is a clear influence on Julie Bass and the election deniers that have taken over the Clerk and Recorders office. Jan Weenas, who has been volunteering in the Elections office, brought Manzella and her inane conspiracy to Great Falls in May 2022. We previously reported on Weenas history with election denial here: https://wtf406.com/2023/04/elections-update-things-just-got-worse/
Now Manzella is in the headlines again, this time for posting a meme showing a man being drug behind a horse with the text “Make Drag Shows Great Again.” There’s a lot to unpack here. Firstly, the use of Trump slogans is no surprise. Manzella wholly embraces Trump ideology, parroting election integrity lies and promoting violence. Manzella tried to backtrack, claiming this was simply a “joke” about rodeo. Let’s ask the family of Matthew Shepherd if jokes about dragging gay people to death are funny. After a recent attempted murder of a trans person in Great Falls, I don’t find myself chuckling.
This isn’t the first time Manzella has promoted violence against the LGBTQ+ community. In 2021, Manzella spoke at political rallies stating that violence against LGBTQ+ people is a “consequence” for our existing in public. Manzella herself faced no consequences for using her platform to promote violence. In response to her most recent rhetoric, the Democratic Party released a statement condemning Manzella’s post. The Montana Human Rights Network has gone a step further with a petition calling for Manzella’s removal. You can sign that petition here: https://secure.everyaction.com/-vu7uB7kIE-U8cd7z6SosQ2?fbclid=IwAR0BN2b0qqRdNDP4FQv8EtTgGEJvRv1h9wMvHbxGAZ-s52dYCuoBSLZQr44
Manzella is a prime example of the intersection between bigotry and election denial. Manzella is but one in a string of extremist speakers brought to our city by Great Falls’ Republicans. As part of their 5 For 5 group, they also hosted Pastor Jordan Hall, a violent bigot who was later arrested for DUI charges, embezzling from his church, and violently assaulting his wife and children.
The same crowd that wants to purge all voter roles also loudly cheers violence against LGBTQ+ people. Give Manzella a microphone and she’ll claim election integrity with one breath, then call for the murder of Queer people with the next. Great Falls election deniers have wholly embraced the Manzella ideology- ignore facts, threaten the marginalized, and scream your lies with your whole chest. From Theresa Manzella to Julie Bass, the election denier crowd are a dangerously unhinged group of conspiracy theorists. Republicans are using Great Falls as a stage for the state’s most dangerous liars.
Read more about the Democrat’s response to Manzella here:
Read about Great Falls’ Republicans love for Jordan Hall here: https://wtf406.com/2022/08/republicans-support-disgraced-former-pastor/
Read about Manzella’s prior attacks on the LGBTQ+ community here:
See Manzella’s offensive post here:
With mere days left in the 2023 session, Montana legislators have failed to perform even their most basic duties, like passing our state’s budget. Instead, they’ve moved full-bore into a culture war. House Speaker Matt Regier and the antithetically-named “Freedom Caucus” have cast an international shadow over Montana. Their spurious attacks against Representative Zooey Zephyr have been featured in outlets ranging from the New York Times to the BBC.
Regier has argued that Zephyr violated decorum and that Regier is simply following the rules and standards of the Legislative body. A quick examination of those arguments shows that Republicans have spent the session spewing their own indecorous rhetoric, far exceeding the mild metaphor used by Rep. Zephyr. We’ve seen the likes of Representative Braxton Mitchell claim that those testifying against his bill were unemployed folks who have nothing better to do with their time. We’ve watched the Freedom Caucus intentionally and consistently misgender Representative Zephyr. We’ve even seen Republicans explicitly state that neither students in schools nor members of the Montana Legislature owe one another respect. Listening to his own party’s dialogue through the session, Regier’s sudden pearl-clutching and calls for decorum ring entirely hollow.
Let’s call it what it really is. Republicans can say anything they want – with no standards for basic human decency or even scientific accuracy. They can lie. They can insult their colleagues and the voters, and they will have no consequences. Whereas Democrats must listen quietly and daren’t say anything that would hold these evil-doers accountable for their discriminatory laws and words.
Yesterday, every single Montana House Republican voted to censure Zephyr. That censure banned Zephyr from the floor for the rest of the session. However, Regier assured Zephyr could continue to participate on her assigned committees and vote remotely.
That lie lasted less than 24 hours.
Today Zephyr sat on a bench in the Capitol and worked from her laptop. She may not be allowed on the floor, but she’s allowed elsewhere in the building. But shutting Zephyr out, literally, wasn’t enough for the GOP. Instead, they attempted to move Zephyr from that bench, despite her being in full compliance with the terms of her censure. It’s clear they don’t want Zephyr seen nor heard. This is some petty bullshit.
But wait, there’s more!
Multiple Representatives confirmed that their committees have been canceled. The remaining bills have been transferred to different (and many wholly inappropriate) committees. Those sudden cancellations only occurred in the committees on which Rep. Zephyr sits. This move not only silences Zephyr, but all of us whose Representatives are on those canceled committees. Now, not only is Zephyr’s district losing its representation, but so are thousands of other Montanans, including Great Falls.
Republicans are taking their fascism one step further, and it’s a huge fucking step.
They’re keeping the gallery closed, locking out both citizens and journalists, in what many online speculate is a clear violation of Montana’s open meeting laws. Journalists are not being allowed entry into meetings and some have even reported having their press passes revoked.
Silencing duly elected representatives, moving bills to the wrong committees, disenfranchising the voices of thousands of Montanans, and locking out the press. This is the Montana GOP, and they’re a fucking embarrassment.