Recently I was sitting in an out patient surgical center in Helena, Montana minding my own business while waiting for a friend who needed a ride home. Scattered around the room were copies of Montana Senior News a magazine aimed at Montana’s rapidly aging population. I immediately noticed the cover photo was of Linda Gryczan a woman I happen to know and hold in high esteem. Linda was the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit that struck down Montana’s deviant sexual misconduct statute. While Montana’s law on gay sex was struck down a long time ago it is still legal to discriminate in all things on sexual orientation and gender identity in Montana. So LGBTQ people are no longer felons but they can be denied jobs, housing, and services. In fact, when Burt and I had some troublesome tenants that happened to be gay we were advised to use their gayness to remove them from our property. We were so offended by this thought we did the opposite and let them stay until the lease expired despite missed payments and property damage. The problem wasn’t their gayness. They were volatile young men. We knew nobody wanted to rent to a pair of teenage boys so we worked with them until the end.
So I picked up the magazine and started to read the article about the history of gay rights in Montana and specifically how elder LGBTQ folk in Montana have no protections when it comes to discrimination in end of life scenarios. Nursing homes can bar them or prevent couples from living together. Ignorant, hateful staff may treat someone poorly and it might be just fine with management. While I knew we as a society had a long way to go to make everyone feel safe and welcome and valued I had never thought of the heart piercing details some people must face on a day to day basis at the most vulnerable time in their lives. The article was written by another person I know, Aaron Parrett and Nan Parrett took the photos of the people that shared their stories and concerns. It is a really nice piece that discusses how far we’ve come and what remains to be done. It even mentions that most Montanans have a live and let live attitude and are uninterested in making sexual orientation an issue. I basked in the glow of the article being prominently featured and scattered on every table in the waiting room. There was an inkling of hope. You can read it here.
A few minutes later I was playing Bridge on my phone and I heard a couple come in and sit with their backs to me. The waiting room was about 10′ by 10′ with seats for 12 or so people. There were three other people in the room. I was seated furthest from the door. The couple comes in and starts bashing democrats and libtards loudly enough that anyone could hear. I ignored them. I didn’t even look up. Montana is Trump country. Not a surprise to run into people holding these views but kind of odd that they’d be speaking so loudly and negatively in a small public space. Then the man said: They even had a parade last week downtown with their flags and nobody cares…The woman says: You see them everywhere…The man replies: A bunch of them women were camped out at the campground last weekend all in the SAME campsite. Sharing tents. I looked up expecting to see some gnarled old timers and was appalled to see a heterosexual couple of about my age or younger spewing this vile hate loud enough for the whole room to hear. I said: You shouldn’t share your homophobia in public. The man says: I’m not homophobic. I say, sweetly: sounds like you are. Meanwhile I was thinking and they call us snowflakes. These two were undone by a magazine cover. Silence.
The silence was profound and there was a frisson of fear. The three uninvolved people looked like they wanted to turn invisible. Then the woman mutters: I just don’t understand why they need special rights. I stood up and yelled: Shut the FUCK up. Not my finest retort. I moved to get support from the front desk and discovered the receptionist had stepped away. I turned to face the couple. They were between me and the door. The man was leering and grinning. They were enjoying this. I realized I was in danger of assault. I was going to assault him. I exited the building and called the Surgicenter to let them know I was waiting outside since I know longer felt safe in their waiting room. For forty minutes I paced and basically freaked out. Here I was white and straight and I was getting only a taste of the fear millions live with everyday of their lives. I presumed I knew as a woman, and I do to an extent but this was horrifying. I was completely unprepared to feel their demeaning gaze and hear their vile, ignorant words.
In some ways I felt ashamed that I lost my temper. And in other ways it’s nice to just explode. I wish I’d continued to politely ask them to keep their views to themselves. I’ve confronted bullies at work and other places. I’ve had many men try and some succeed to intimidate me. I feel very much at risk as a female in our society. I do not feel equal. I do not feel heard. And yet I have so many advantages since I am white and educated and tall and bold. Eventually a staff member came out and found me. She’d heard what happened and apologized and thanked me for speaking up. I’m optimistic that next time I’ll be a bit gentler when I tell bigots to shut their pie holes. It takes practice. These situations happen when least expected.
I share this story not to garner praise or support. I share it so maybe you will practice and imagine and find the courage to say something, anything. We must drive hate back into hiding. We can do it.