MISSOULA — The Montana House and Senate both endorsed the final version of a bill that would block transgender female student-athletes from women and girls' sports on Thursday.
The House voted 60-to-39 to approve the conference committee's report on House Bill 112, which would require high school and college athletes to compete based on their "biological sex."
Several minutes later, the Senate approved the changes 27-to-23. If the bill passes final votes in both chambers Friday, it will be on its way to Gov. Greg Gianforte's desk.
Transgender advocates recently traveled to Helena to make sure their voices were heard. Shawn Reagor with the Montana Human Rights Network said the anti-trans bills in the Montana Legislature are impacting Montanans.
"We’re seeing a significant increase in crisis calls from individuals who are needing immediate mental services, we’re seeing an increase in people who are experiencing discrimination, on the job, and in housing."
Reagor says he’s personally fielded calls for help, "although those calls can be hard to take, the calls that I’m more concerned about are the ones that I’m not getting.”
It is a growing worry, as the legislature moves forward. Andy Nelson says the Western Montana LGBTQ+ Community Center in Missoula is getting questions about how to get politically involved.
“I think there just needs to be more discussions about what the lives of these folks are like, I think that’s something that’s missed, is a lot of folks proposing these bills, they don’t know anything about the LGBTQ community.”
He said the bills are dividing issues, “I do see these causing further rifts between people that don’t necessarily understand the LGBT community."
It's a sentiment echoed by others, "they clearly just have no idea what they’re talking about," said Forward Montana Issue Advocacy organizer Izzy Milch.
He told MTN News they are tired, "people have testified at all of these hearings trying to explain what life is like as a trans person in this state, and they’re just not interested in hearing that."
They say, watching the legislature and hearing what our lawmakers say is taking a toll on their mental health," so upsetting and traumatizing to listen to."
Milch also said most people don’t have what they call the "dangerous attitudes" of some legislators, "but when it’s the people in power that are saying these things, it’s not easy to listen to."
That’s why organizations across the state are stepping up outreach.
“To really make sure that people know that just because these bills are moving through the state legislature, doesn’t mean that they represent the views of all people in the state of Montana,” Reagor explained.
Milch said that knowledge will keep the LGBTQ+ community strong.
“Queer people, -- and especially trans people -- have this sort of special ability to imagine realities that are better than the ones that currently exist. And always be asking questions about why things are the way they are, and coming up with creative solutions to make the world a little bit more like we want it to be, and this is no exception, Milch told MTN News.
"I do feel really hopeful knowing that this community exists in Montana and will continue to work towards a place where we can all feel safe living," Milch concluded.
Support groups for transgender people are meeting regularly in Missoula and statewide. You can contact the Western Montana LGBTQ+ Community Center in Missoula at (406) 543-2224 or the Montana Human Rights Network at Paxton@MHRN.org for additional information.