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All Americans, especially Montanans, should be concerned about the stagnation of the Equality Act’s progress. On May 17, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Equality Act with an overwhelming majority and bipartisan support. This act would amend the Civil Rights Act to "prohibit discrimination ... on the basis of the sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, or pregnancy.” This historic action by the House was long overdue, and yet, the fate of this legislation remains uncertain, as it is now stalled in the Senate Judiciary Committee. If passed, this act could boost Montana’s economy and reduce suicide rates among our youth.

According to recent polls and actions by several local municipal governments, the majority of Montanans support the rights of the LGBTQ+ community. A 2018 Public Religion Research Institute poll showed that 72% of Montana support LGBTQ+ anti-discrimination laws in Montana. In recent years, Butte, Helena, Missoula, Bozeman and Whitefish passed nondiscrimination ordinances that include LGBTQ+ protections. It is time to follow the lead of these communities and, as a state, stand up for policy that protects all Montanans. In doing so, Montana will reap the economic benefits that come with living in a place that supports equality for all.

Ken Fitchtler, Gov. Steve Bullock’s economic development director, confirmed that businesses have chosen not to come to Montana, citing the state’s lack of protections for LGBTQ+ communities as a contributing factor. Furthermore, numerous academic studies show that the granting of full rights and comprehensive inclusion of LGBTQ+ people are associated with higher levels of economic development and the well-being of a place.

If we make a concerted effort to support diversity and protect all Montanans against discrimination, not only will we attract businesses but we will also nurture an innovative, vibrant economy that benefits us all. Beyond the clear economic benefits provided by the Equality Act, this critical piece of legislation would also bolster the well-being and safety of our youth.

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LGBTQ+ youth in Montana are four times more likely than straight youth to attempt suicide. Regrettably, it should come as no surprise that LGBTQ+ children are questioning their worth when our their basic human rights are not protected under current laws. As a society, it is time we stand up for all young Montanans and let them know we value their lives and their individuality. If we truly care about the well-being of our future generations, it is imperative that our laws afford them equal fundamental rights to live, work, and thrive in our society. The first step in doing so is to implore our senators to vote in support of the Equality Act.

Furthermore, we must extend the love we have for our youth to the entirety of the LGBTQ+ community. Americans are fortunate to have the right to freely express themselves without fear of persecution. However, the moment one’s personal moral values threaten another’s, that freedom is threatened for everyone. Silence around these issues means we are ignoring situations where people are being marginalized. We have a responsibility to uphold the human rights of all, no matter how they identify or whom they love.

Montana has the opportunity to stand for freedom and equality by supporting this bill to protect the LBGTQ+ community from discrimination. These protections will serve to strengthen our democracy, economy and civil rights for the benefit of us all.

We should welcome diversity in all its forms and leave no room in our hearts for prejudice, regardless of our personal ideologies. Contact U.S. Sens. Jon Tester and Steve Daines and urge them to support the Equality Act today.

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This opinion is signed by Erika Berglund, Lindsay Wancour and Kimya Hedayat-Zadeh on behalf of the Western Montana local team of Union of Concerned Scientists.

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