Montana Governor Prohibits LGBT Discrimination

By John Celock

Montana Gov. Steve Bullock (D) used Martin Luther King Jr. Day to sign a wide-ranging executive order to prohibit discrimination within state government based on sexual orientation and gender identity, along with pregnancy status.

Bullock signed the order which will prohibit discrimination within state government and in state contracts in those areas, along with directing the state Department of Administration to prepare a nondiscrimination policy for all of the state agencies under the governor’s office. He also stated that the order will cover pregnancy status and veterans. In the order, Bullock specifically said that the late civil rights leader’s writings guided him in issuing the order.

“WHEREAS, January 18, 2016, is the day our country honors civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. On this day, I am guided by words he wrote while jailed in Birmingham during our country’s fight for racial equality “[i]njustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” Letter from Birmingham Jail, Alabama, 16 April 1963, in Atlantic Monthly, August 1963,” Bullock wrote in the order.

Bullock’s order covers all state employees under his jurisdiction, along with all contracts and procurement in state government, which is handled by the Department of Administration, which falls under the governor’s office. The contracts part of the order states that all hiring done by firms under the contract has to be done “under the basis of merit” and not include discrimination. In the order, Bullock says that any state employee who engages in discrimination under the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity could be fired.

Bullock’s order only covers state government and does not include the private sector. A discrimination ban covering the private sector would need to be enacted through legislation from the Republican-controlled state Legislature, which has resisted efforts in the past. Montana’s Legislature does not reconvene until January 2017.

According to the ACLU, 17 states have enacted laws for employment non-discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. In addition, three states have enacted statewide laws prohibiting employment discrimination based on sexual orientation.

In the order, Bullock wrote that 91 percent of Fortune 500 companies prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and 61 percent based on gender identity. He also said wrote that 40 percent of LGBT population faces discrimination based on sexual orientation and 90 percent of the transgender population has reported discrimination based on gender identity. He also said that a 2013 U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission study reported that pregnancy discrimination in the workplace rose from 1997, but he did not provide a percentage.

Bullock wrote that he issued the order in order to address what he says is a workplace shortage coming to Montana.

“WHEREAS, Montana is likely to face a worker shortage over the next decade, and this shortage will be exacerbated by discrimination that drives away talented and trained workers who want to live in a place where they are free from discrimination and harassment,” he wrote.

Bullock’s move was praised by state Rep. Bryce Bennett (D-Missoula), the first openly gay man to serve in the state Legislature.

“Thank you, Governor Steve Bullock for your leadership in moving Montana closer to being a state where all are equal under the law,” Bennett wrote on social media.