Working to End Discrimination in the Mountain West

September 10, 2014

The Mountain West region is notable — not just for its mountain ranges and national parks — but for its commitment to winning nondiscrimination protections for its LGBT communities.

As part of the Federation’s Fairness Project, we’re convening a cohort of five states in the Mountain West. These states — Arizona, Idaho, Montana, Utah and Wyoming — are all working on securing nondiscrimination protections at the local and state level.

  • In Idaho, no statewide LGBT organization currently exists, so the hard work is headed by the ACLU of Idaho. They have already passed 8 ordinances, including Pocatello where a ballot repeal was successfully fought off. And they are working on two additional ordinances in Lewiston and Caldwell.
  • Montana's work is headed by two organizations: the Montana Human Rights Network and Forward Montana. Both organizations are regrouping after setbacks in Bozeman and Billings, but the work continues.
  • Wyoming's work is spearheaded by Federation member Equality Wyoming. While they currently don't have any local ordinances, work in 5 cities — Casper, Cheyenne, Jackson Hole, Laramie and Rock Springs — will change that soon enough.
  • In Utah, Equality Utah has worked to successfully pass ordinances in 14 cities and 3 counties, with two currently in the works in Sandy and Draper — two conservative areas of Salt Lake County.
  • And in Arizona, member organization Equality Arizona has joined as the newest state in the cohort, having already passed ordinances in 3 cities. For this state, as with the others, there is a focus not only on local ordinances, but on a statewide law as well.

But it is not just their work to end discrimination that makes this cohort unique. These states share common political and cultural landscapes that make their triumphs and trials an opportunity for shared learning experiences across borders.

In the Mountain West, a libertarian brand of conservatism is strong and widespread, as opposed to the often religious conservatism of the South. State-based organizations working in this region must tap into libertarian values to advocate for equality.

Like many states working to advance nondiscrimination policies, Mountain West organizations are focusing considerable energy on building support among businesses. But in this unique region, lawmakers are swayed by support that comes from small homegrown businesses instead of larger corporations from outside the state, which is not often the case in other parts of the country.

Securing protections in a Salt Lake City suburb in Utah presents different challenges from passing an ordinance in Laramie, WY, but what is constant is that the municipalities currently being prioritized are not large metropolitan areas like Dallas or Jacksonville, but rather small towns and cities.

And since all five states are working on local ordinances as a way to advance a statewide agenda, representatives from the different states have a lot to share around strategies and resources.

Each month, representatives from organizations in each of these states meet by phone, with additional conversations happening throughout the month via email.  These conversations allow cohort participants to think about their work in new ways, sparking innovation. Like Jessica McCafferty from the ACLU of Idaho, who has already benefited from the monthly calls:

“I think the cohort is great! Andy has been very receptive to all of our varying needs, while keeping information sharing relevant to all the states in the cohort. I've already learned different approaches from the other states representatives, but mainly I feel less alone in a struggle that so many of the coastal states have already dealt with. I look forward to hearing updates from the people on the ground from states around me, and getting a heads up when problems arise with local ordinance work.”

And Jeran Artery from Wyoming Equality, who says:

“Working with the mountain west cohort has been extremely helpful for Wyoming Equality and our efforts here in the Equality State! Sharing best practices, brainstorming, and talking through difficult situations helps us effect real change in Wyoming. I feel like we don't have to ‘reinvent the wheel’ or start from scratch when we go into cities and towns to begin our work on improving LGBT policies. Thank you Equality Federation for this great resource!"

In order to support their work, the cohort calls focus on topics such as effective local ordinance strategies, working with business leaders, effective messaging, transgender inclusion, and working in partnership with faith communities.

The resources and strategies shared are quite practical, particularly as experts from outside the cohort — leaders from other states and national partners — join us to share insights on topics identified by the group.

Through this cohort, we’re helping to end the isolation that Mountain West states have too often felt and to build supportive relationships that connect these state leaders to one another and the larger movement.

This is what supporting each other across the states looks like, and we're hoping to roll this model out to other regions in the future — all as part of our work to secure nondiscrimination policies in the states where LGBT people are vulnerable to discrimination.

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