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'We need to be out here': Protest held in downtown Billings following bill hearings regarding LGBTQ rights

Protesters in downtown Billings Saturday morning
Posted at 4:16 PM, Feb 11, 2023

BILLINGS — Several bills were heard in Helena on Thursday that would have a major impact on Montana's LGBTQ community. In response, protests were organized statewide for Saturday.

The Billings protest was held at the Yellowstone County Courthouse lawn in downtown Billings. It started at 10 a.m.—the same time sister protests across the state were held. Protest organizers told MTN News that Helena and Missoula would have the largest crowds.

One of the protest organizers, Quinn Wolffe, told MTN on Friday that this was a chance to publicly denounce the bills.

“What are (the lawmakers) really afraid of and what is the point in these bans? It doesn’t make sense,” Wolffe said. “I use the word important a lot, but I don’t have a better word for it. It’s massive."

Protesters on Saturday were seen with large signs, shouting chants as cars passed.

“I am here because I’m newly trans and out. (These bills) genuinely make me fear for myself and my identity," said protester Ivy Martallis on Saturday. “For those that are supporting these anti-trans bills, I would just say try to put yourself in the shoes of somebody who is transitioning. Try to wake up every day feeling wrong in your own skin, and then come back to me and tell me how it feels."

Martallis said they believe imposing these regulations would have a drastic impact.

“Not being able to express yourself from any age really causes a disconnect with yourself and your identity. And that trickles into your everyday life. Socially, in school, in work, in everything that you do. You just never know who you are really and you’re never able to embrace that," Martallis said. “It really is upsetting and annoying to have somebody try to put you in a box. It doesn’t affect them whatsoever."

And other protesters agreed.

“I am here today because we are protesting the anti-trans bills that are trying to be passed and pushed forward in Montana right now. They’re specifically targeting the youth and not allowing them to transition socially or medically. But these decisions are not made lightly,” said August White on Saturday. “Without the ability to express yourself or just feel comfortable in your own body, you are constantly on the outside looking in. You’re not able to grow as your true self or figure out who you are."

One of the bills, HB 359, would prevent minors from attending drag events and halt businesses from allowing minors to attend these types of events, even if they are private. The bill is sponsored by Republican Representative Braxton Mitchell of Columbia Falls.

"It's their choice to do that if a private facility so chooses. I might not agree with that, but it is their choice," Mitchell said on Thursday. "But taxpayer-funded facilities should not be sponsoring events such as this."

Others agree with Mitchell, like Cheryl Tusken, who spoke at the hearing on Thursday.

"This is not a good, wholesome, fun event," Tusken said.

Last June, a drag queen story hour was held at ZooMontana in Billings, prompting a public outcry and protest from citizens who disagreed with the zoo's event.

"No one should have to worry about where they will be safe,” Wolffe said. “Really all drag is, is expressing vibrantly and loudly. Basically like you’re lip-syncing."

According to Wolffe, the bills would bring on even more challenges for the LGBTQ community.

"That would eliminate a lot of possibilities for trans people to exist safely, let alone at all," Wolffe said. "They can’t express themselves. They can’t be safe."

Wolffe explained some of the bills proposed at the capitol on Thursday have already been implemented in other states and he believes they are causing great harm.

“In other states that have already passed these bills, LGBTQ people are already being hunted," Wolffe said. “It should be infuriating. I’m enraged. I’m livid and stressed 24/7 with everything that’s going on."

Saturday's protest was filled with a mix of LGBTQ community members and allies. The allies said it is extremely important for them to come out and show their support for the LGBTQ community.

“I’m here as an ally. My very best friend is trans and has transitioned. Over the number of years that we’ve been very close friends, I’ve seen her completely flourish in her own skin," said ally Katie Harrison on Saturday. "The vibrancy she emits ever since becoming how she’s always felt on the inside has been one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen in my life."

And Harrison believes it's important to be sympathetic.

“Just put yourself in someone else’s shoes who has to wake up every day feeling fearful and feeling not right in their own body, and how awful they must feel,” Harrison said.

Another ally at the protest, Jesc Gallegos, agreed with Harrison.

“Just because something doesn’t affect me personally doesn’t mean that it’s not an important issue," Gallegos said on Saturday. "We need to be out here. Just because it doesn’t affect you doesn’t mean it doesn’t affect your neighbor or your sister or your coworker or someone that you know. It is very important to people of this community that we keep it safe and healthy for everyone."

To read more about the Thursday hearing in Helena, click here.

“Everyone should have the right to feel safe," Wolffe said. "To just simply, bare minimum, exist. And even that’s not happening. And that’s not fair. That’s not right."