We are thrilled to announce that Truth in Progress is joining forces with the ACLU of Montana to organize support for relationship recognition. Gil, Marilyn and TIP’s video production manager Tonya Easbey will be on the road with Ninia Baehr, LGBT Advocacy Coordinator for the ACLU of Montana, starting in Billings on Saturday, September 17 and ending in Helena on Monday, September 26. We will be holding public presentations and clergy meetings in 6 cities throughout the state. In Bozeman and Missoula we will also be in conversation with members of the Montana Two Spirit Society to enrich our discussion on the intersection of race, sexual orientation/gender identity, and religion. While in Missoula we’ll also touch base with the African American Studies Program at the University of Montana, one of the first programs of its kind in the country. We are excited about the extraordinary depth these connections will bring to our frank open dialogue about the challenges and opportunities of working for cross-cultural understanding and joint action. We will be filming interviews and events all along the tour and blogging daily about our experiences. We will release a full tour schedule next week with dates and times for all our events!

TIP is honored to be working with Ninia, who we consider to be a pioneer in the LGBT Equality Movement. Ninia was part of the landmark lawsuit filed against the State of Hawaii for same-sex marriage in 1991.The case became known as Baehr vs. Miike (Miike was serving in official capacity as the State of Hawaii’s Director of the Department of Health). You can read more about Baehr vs. Miike in the new book by Carlos A. Ball From the Closet to the Courtroom: Five LGBT Rights Lawsuits that Have Changed Our Nation (Beacon Press, 2010).

WHY MONTANA? Montana has become one of four primary areas of the country where Truth in Progress is following stories for the documentary (the other three are Birmingham/Selma, San Francisco, and New York City). We are often asked about how Montana has relevance to the national LGBT Equality Movement especially on issues of race in a largely white-populated state. Rather than answer that question here, we will explore it through our written and video blogs as we travel through the state. For now, we would say that Montana represents the struggles and triumphs of many areas of the country especially with the current dedicated efforts on two fronts: relationship recognition in a state that has a marriage amendment in its constitution excluding same-sex marriage and nondiscrimination ordinances in cities across the state. We also recognize the history of American Indians in Montana has much to teach us all, let alone the diverse teachings of Native American cultures on sexual orientation and gender identity. Finally, on the tour we will visit a part of the state where white supremacist groups have an organized presence. Besides being aware of the obvious toxicity of these hate groups, we know that the other citizens must be diligent about fighting the openly horrific racist rhetoric and practices on a regular basis. We will hear from these anti-hate people as well.

We think Montana has a lot to teach us. We’re not the only ones, see this clip of Laura W. Murphy, Director of ACLU Washington Legislative Office, talking about why legislative action on social issues in the state of Montana is significant to the rest of the country.

Footage by Robin Marlowe

MORE ABOUT FAIR IS FAIR IN MONTANA CAMPAIGN Montana has no statewide system for recognizing same-sex relationships. As a result, same-sex couples and their families are denied access to the basic protections that the state grants to opposite-sex married couples. The ACLU is working to remedy the unfairness through Donaldson and Guggenheim v. State of Montana, a lawsuit seeking domestic partnerships for committed, loving couples. The case is in front of the Montana Supreme Court.

A decision is expected in 2012. While the ACLU’s litigation team is addressing the problem of gay and lesbian couples’ exclusion from important legal protections, its organizing staff are conducting a persuasion campaign to educate mainstream Montanans about why fairness for same-sex couples is so important. Montana's Constitution guarantees the rights of privacy, dignity, pursuit of life's necessities, equal protection, and due process – and FAIR IS FAIR!

MORE ABOUT TOUR COHORT NINIA BAEHR Ninia Baehr graduated from Montana State University with a degree in Rural Sociology, and she is a registered nurse. Prior to joining the ACLU staff as the LGBT Advocacy Coordinator last years, she ran a public health program based at MSU, and for two years she served as the Faculty/Staff Advisor for the Queer Straight Alliance there. Before that, she worked as the Director of Operations for the Bellevue/NYU Program for Survivors of Torture. For more than two decades, her career has been dedicated to advancing health and human rights. On this tour she will provide specific information about actions Montanans can take to demonstrate public support for domestic partnerships.

TIP Coverage of District Court Hearing of Donaldson and Guggenheim vs. State of Montana in front of the Honorable Judge Jeffrey Sherlock, January 25, 2011. by Tonya Easbey

JOIN THE TOUR: MAKE A DONATION TO TRUTH IN PROGRESS! Every dollar counts! Click here to make your contribution and find out how your gift of $100 or more can be tax-deductible through our 501c3 fiscal agent the Montana Human Rights Network.