Evicted because of who you are?
Local billboard raises this and other questions about gender identity and the law
A fleeting billboard just before the gas stations as you enter Four Corners made an appearance for a stint recently that was eye-catching because of its starkness. Commuters on Highway 191 were confronted with plain black text on a white background—nothing extraordinary in presentation—but it aimed to give people pause.
The text stated: “Imagine being evicted because of who you are.” At the bottom of the billboard, though difficult to see if just cruising by, the words “Beyond I Do” were visible.
Turns out, the Beyond I Do campaign works to raise awareness about discrimination experienced by the LGBTQ community, even after the U.S. Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage on June 25, 2015. According to the website beyondido.org, 28 states provide no legal protection for employment, housing, or public accommodations in regards to sexual orientation or gender identity, and three states provide incomplete protection.
Sexual orientation, from the website, is described as, “loosely defined as a person’s pattern of romantic or sexual attraction to people of the opposite sex or gender, the same sex or gender, or more than one sex or gender,” or simply the outward choices people make concerning those they are or are not attracted to. Gender identity is defined as, “a person’s deeply-felt inner sense of being male, female, or something else in-between,” or the inner feelings a person may have about what label they do or do not identify with.
Montana is one of the 28 states that does not fully protect LGBTQ citizens in employment, housing or public accommodations. Bozeman, along with Butte, Whitefish, Helena and Missoula do have local ordinances prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity in these regards. This is displayed by signs at local businesses announcing there is, “no hate in our state,” or that everyone is welcome at this establishment.
Beyond I Do uses data and materials from the Movement Advancement Project (MAP) to supplement its website and provide viewers with a plethora of information about where in the country LGBTQ people face discrimination—what that discrimination looks like, and even contains personal stories from couples in states around the country.
Ellen Fisher, SVP of public relations and social media at the Ad Council, describes how the Ad Council is able to spread awareness of this discrimination and comments on the placement of the billboards.
“The Ad Council has partnered with the Gill Foundation to launch a national campaign to raise awareness about the discrimination LGBTQ people face across the country, and specifically in the 31 states where LGBTQ people don’t have protections from discrimination in housing, employment, or services… This is a non-political, non-partisan campaign, as is every campaign at the Ad Council,” Fisher explained.
The location of the Four Corners billboard was mostly chosen at random. Another billboard near Helena currently reads, “Imagine being denied healthcare because of who you love.”
“All ad space for Ad Council campaigns is completely donated, and the organization as a whole receives more than $1 billion in donated media per year. The way this works for billboards specifically is that companies who run out-of-home advertising donate available billboard space to Ad Council ads—as such, we can select general regions where billboards will display, but exact locations are not selected,” said Fisher.
MAP details how Montana has several laws that can be harmful to LGBTQ people. Concerning relationship and parental recognition, there is no law regarding sexual orientation or gender identity that provides protection against discrimination in adoption. In regards to health and safety laws, there is no law regarding sexual orientation or gender identity that protects against discrimination in private health insurance. LGBTQ youth have no law regarding sexual orientation or gender identity that covers anti-bullying.
“Montana is one of the 31 states that currently lacks statewide protections for LGBTQ people, even though more than 24,000 Montanans openly identify as LGBTQ,” Fisher said.
Michael O’Reilly, a Montessori teacher, an instructor at Mountain Air Dance, and frequent participant in various burlesque and drag shows in Bozeman, said he felt grateful for the acceptance he has received living in Bozeman after moving from a small, mountain town in Washington state.
“I have always felt very good about living in Bozeman,” O’Reilly said. “I feel secure here. When I’ve gone downtown dressed up in gender bending ways after shows, the responses I get are largely positive and the negative is nothing I can’t handle.”
O’Reilly described his sense that the transgender community is discriminated against and their stories need to be heard in order to help people understand the issues they are dealing with.
O’Reilly has practiced the aerial dance arts since he was 12-years-old and has been teaching now for five years.
“I was obsessed with the circus from a very young age and climbed everything. So aerial silks were a very natural passion that I feel is strongly a part of who I am. Dancing in the air is my favorite thing to do,” he said, adding, “It’s confusing to me that so many who vehemently spout patriotic ideology of freedom and liberty seek to limit that for others they don’t agree with. That’s not how freedom works. No one is truly free if we are not free together.”