Advocates Launch Campaign to Defeat Montana’s Anti-Trans Bathroom Vote

The fight to defeat Montana’s anti-trans ballot measure is on.

Advocates announced the Free & Fair Coalition to battle back the county’s first statewide bathroom ballot measure Tuesday. It’s a given, say sources, that anti-trans activist will meet the required threshold to put the measure on the ballot this summer.

Under I-183, all bathrooms in the Treasure State would be segregated according to the sex an individual was assigned at birth, even if transgender people have updated their legal documents. It also allows people who encounter someone of the “opposite sex” the right to sue the government.

If that has a familiar ring, it’s because other states have attempted to pass laws that allowed students to sue if they encountered trans people in the “wrong” restroom. Kentucky made an attempt at such a rule in 2015 and Kansas introduced a bill in 2016.

“Like other laws and ballot measures that have been proposed in various states and

localities, I-183 is meant to capitalize on the fears and uncertainties of voters and

punish Montana’s transgender and non-binary community,” said S.K. Rossi, Free &

Fair Coalition spokesperson, in a statement. “Montanans understand I-183 is not consistent with our shared values.”

Montana would be the first-ever state to vote on a statewide bathroom ballot measure. It would also be the second state in the nation to face a statewide anti-trans referendum after Massachusetts votes on whether or not to roll back its transgender anti-discrimination protections in November.

The signature gathering comes after anti-trans activists failed to get the measure on the ballot through the state legislature last spring. In that instance, the Montana Locker Room and Privacy Act didn’t even make it out of committee.

It could fare much better at the ballot box in a state Donald Trump won by 20 points in the 2016 presidential election. Still, the state elected Democratic Governor Steve Bullock by just over three points that same cycle.

Montana’s bathroom measure has echoes of another bathroom measure that failed to pass in Anchorage earlier this month. But the Montana measure goes a step further by allowing people to sue the government and banning multiple stall gender neutral bathrooms.

Experts credited the Anchorage campaign’s success in part to its insistence on putting transgender voices at the front of its messaging, running an ad featuring transgender high school student Col Lockard and putting forth spoken word artist MoHagani Magnetek.

The Free & Fair Coalition appears to be taking a similar strategy.

Half of its executive committee is made of up transgender Montanans. The coalition reports that it has already provided “allyship” training to more than 400 state residents.

I-183 could have substantial drawbacks if Montana voters approve the law. Its implementation would drain the state of an estimated half million dollars to update bathroom signage and “long-term costs and legal fees for state and local governments, K-12 schools, and universities could be substantial but are uncertain,” the measure notes.

The measure makes note of those financial implications due to a lawsuit brought forth by the ACLU of Montana. In September, the Montana Supreme Court ruled that 1-183’s language failed to clearly lay out the impacts on Montana’s economy or transgender population. A revised measure that aims to outline both has since been released.

The Free & Fair Coalition is made in part by the ACLU of Montana, Montana Gender Alliance, Montana Human Rights Network, Montana Women Vote, Planned Parenthood Advocates of Montana and Forward Montana, according to a media release.

The anti-trans effort is being led by the Montana Family Foundation, an organization that has long battled abortion rights, same-sex marriage, and non-discrimination protections for LGBTQ people.


Kate Sosin 

Kate Sosin is a trans news and features reporter and former associate editor of Chicago’s Windy City Times.

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