The LGBTQ rights community is celebrating the defeat of I-183, the proposed ballot measure that would have prevented transgender Montanans from using facilities consistent with their gender identity. I-183, also called the “Montana Locker Room Privacy Act,” failed to gain enough signatures to qualify for a ballot initiative in November.
Sponsored by the anti-LGBTQ and anti-choice group Montana Family Foundation (MFF), which has an extensive history of defending religious exemption bills, I-183 would have endangered transgender and non-binary Montanans and forced them out of public places by restricting their use of facilities. Additionally, it would have granted people the right to sue the government if they encountered a transgender or non-binary person in a facility that did not match the gender on their birth certificate.
In response, a number of local advocacy groups formed the coalition Free & Fair Montana in order to protect the human rights of trans and non-binary Montanans and oppose this discriminatory measure. Among those involved in this coalition was the ACLU of Montana, which in October 2017 filed a petition arguing that the language used in the ballot and fiscal impact statements for the initiative did not make clear its discriminatory effect. They also noted that, if enacted, it would cost the government a considerable amount of time and money to enforce these new laws. The Montana Supreme Court ruled in the ACLU’s favor, and both statements were revised.
As a result of efforts by local advocates, the MFF received less than 10,000 of the nearly 25,000 signatures required to qualify for a ballot initiative, showing that support for trans rights in Montana greatly outnumbers the opposition.
“Local advocacy groups in Montana today set a powerful example for the rest of the country by refusing to let this harmful anti-trans initiative reach the ballot in November,” said Sarah Kate Ellis, President and CEO of GLAAD. “While safety in public facilities is important to all of us, assault and harassment are already illegal, and laws that specifically bar restroom access for transgender people only increase the abuse and mistreatment that many trans people already face.”
The battle for trans rights continues in Massachusetts, where Freedom for All Massachusetts is working to fight a November 2018 ballot initiative that would repeal basic protections for trans people after the state extended non-discrimination protections to transgender people in July 2016.