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.
Earlier this week, Senator Jeremy Trebas went on an unhinged Twitter rant, using slurs and intentionally misgendering Representative Zooey Zephyr. Trebas is known for his extremely bizarre views, ranging from his claims that the polio vaccine wasn’t necessary to his argument that hunters shouldn’t have to wear blaze orange.
Now, amidst international spotlight on Montana’s Legislative session, Trebas is doubling down on his extreme anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric. Trebas’ actions seem especially dubious given the Montana GOP’s censuring of Representative Zephyr under the guise of maintaining “decorum.”
After Trebas’ tweets were shared by an NBC reporter, citizens contacted WTF406 to ask if the Great Falls Rescue Mission is aware of Trebas’ online behavior. A look at their website shows Trebas is the Operations Director. We reached out to the Great Falls Rescue Mission.
“We are a local blog covering relevant political happenings. Today, Senator Jeremy Trebas’s tweets were shared by a reporter with NBC. We’ve included screenshots which show Mr. Trebas misgendering Representative Zoey Zephyr and using a slur. We’ve received questions from citizens regarding Mr. Trebas’s affiliation with your organization. Upon examining your website, we see that Mr. Trebas is listed as the Operations Director.
We’d like to give you an opportunity to respond to these questions.
- Is the Rescue Mission aware of Mr. Trebas’s online activities? If so, do they endorse his comments?
- Does the Rescue Mission provide services to members of the LGBTQ+ community?
We thank you for your time and prompt attention to this inquiry. Please note that we intend to report on this issue within the next 24 hours.
What The Funk 406 Blog”
And here is the response we received:
“Thank you for reaching out to us, and giving us an opportunity to share our thoughts with you
To answer your questions;
1.Is the Rescue Mission aware of Mr. Trebas’s online activities? If so, do they endorse his comments?
Response; No, We were not aware of this thread of social media. Mr. Trebas has been duly elected by the people of his district, and has a right to have his own opinions.
Great Falls Rescue Mission does not align with his comments or the way he chooses to communicate them.
2. Does the Rescue Mission provide services to members of the LGBTQ+ community?
Response; Yes, The Great Falls Rescue Mission strives to provide services for all those seeking refuge and are in need of temporary shelter. We ask all entering our facilities to adhere to our policies to provide safety, security and respect for every person staying with us, while maintaining our Statement of Faith and Christian Values.The Great Falls Rescue Mission is a non profit Christian Organization committed to serving the hungry, hurting and homeless through Jesus Christ love.”
So, dear readers, now we ask you.
Can LGBTQ+ people feel safe accessing services at the Great Falls Rescue Mission? We’d like to hear what you think. Let us know in the comments.
Meet the Staff
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.