Metro Weekly

Montana anti-transgender ballot initiative fails to qualify for ballot

Latest count had supporters of I-183 collecting only 8,000 of the 25,000 signatures needed to get onto the ballot

Photo: Nikolai Nolan, via Wikimedia.

Montana’s historic libertarian streak continued last week after proponents of a ballot measure to force transgender people to use only those multi-user facilities that match the gender on their birth certificate failed to gather enough signatures for the ballot.

Supporters of Initiative 183, dubbed the “Montana Locker Room Privacy Act, managed to collect only 8,079 signatures from registered voters by the deadline of June 20.  They needed to collect 25,468 signatures to qualify for the November ballot.

According to the Helena Independent Record, elections officials for the state’s six largest counties — where more than half the population lives — said they had submitted all but a few of their signatures, making it virtually impossible for Initiative 183 to get a last-minute boost before signatures are certified and a final count is issued on July 20.

Proponents of the measure had claimed it was necessary to protect the privacy of cisgender people in intimate spaces like restrooms and locker rooms, particularly women and girls who might be put more at risk if “biological males” were allowed to enter by claiming they were transgender. But opponents said such appeals were only a form of scare-mongering based on a lack of understanding about transgender people.

Opponents, particularly the American Civil Liberties Union of Montana, took issue with and eventually sued over the language that was initially approved for the initiative. They claimed the language failed to accurately state what it would cost the state to enforce the law, and any potential ramifications that could come from passing the initiative. They also objected to overly broad provisions that would have allowed litigious Montanans to sue for “emotional distress” over the mere thought of having to share spaces with transgender people.

“Courts across the country have found measures like I-183 to be unconstitutional, and voters in a growing number of states have rejected similar attempts to legalize discrimination,” Caitlin Borgmann, the executive director of the ACLU of Montana, said in a statement. “If an effort to discriminate against LGBTQ Montanans rears its ugly head again, we will be there to fight back on behalf of the transgender and non-binary community.”

Montana Family Foundation CEO Jeff Laszloffy declined to discuss the initiative with several Montana newspapers. The Family Foundation has not updated either its website or Facebook page to address the fact that I-183 won’t appear on the ballot.

In 2017, Montana lawmakers rejected a bill that would have instituted similar restrictions on transgender people’s ability to access shared facilities, which had prompted the Montana Family Foundation to try to force the issue onto the 2018 ballot.

“Today we are celebrating,” Shawn Reagor, the vice-chair of the Free and Fair Coalition, which opposed I-183. “Our commitment to trans and non-binary Montanans is unwavering, and we will continue showing up to defend against attacks on the dignity and privacy of our family, friends, neighbors and co-workers.

“This proposed initiative has now failed to garner enough support to qualify for the ballot, and it failed to get out of committee in the 2017 Legislature because even the most conservative members of that body understood the policy is bad for Montana’s economy, communities and schools,” he added. “Montanans made it clear: they will not allow this policy to capitalize on the fears and uncertainties of voters and punish Montana’s transgender and non-binary community.”

John Riley is the local news reporter for Metro Weekly. He can be reached at jriley@metroweekly.com

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