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I spent an uncommon amount of time on Twitter this week, slightly stunned by the responses pouring in about one particular story: the debate between Montana State Library Commissioners over whether the library’s $300,000 rebranded logo looks like an LGBTQ Pride flag.
The reader reaction mostly ranged from incredulity to outrage. Many commenters said it seemed bizarre and a little comical that a logo with an abstract rainbow, inspired by a prism, could be so politicized.
“Additional #rainbow images/names no longer welcome in Montana,” joked former Bozeman Mayor Chris Mehl, saying the state should rename Rainbow Peak in Glacier National Park and rainbow trout.
“Colors are gay and we can’t have that,” said Twitter user @Dragonfly_Darcy.
The library commission’s nearly two-hour-long meeting certainly included moments of ‘Parks and Recreation’-style humor. More often, I was struck by the political inflammation that surrounds the LGBTQ community because of its general existence, whether members of that group are in the room advocating for something or not.
When droves of LGTBQ people do show up for public events, louder opposition often follows. Violent rhetoric and threats have flared up around the country in response to June Pride celebrations this year. Earlier this month, authorities arrested 31 members of a white nationalist group in Idaho, allegedly on their way to disrupt a local Pride event.
Here in Montana, threats and outrage erupted this month over a 406 Pride event in Billings called Drag Queen Story Hour, where people dress up in elaborate costumes and makeup to read story books to children. Around the country, these story events seek to amplify the same message that drag performance has represented for at least a century: express your gender however you want, have fun, and take pride in who you are.
In Facebook comments, opponents of the Billings event characterized drag queens reading to children as child abuse. Some patrons of the venue, Zoo Montana, said they planned to cancel memberships. Montana Congressman Matt Rosendale, a Republican, said earlier this month that he was “appalled” by the event and accused Zoo Montana of deciding to “promote child abuse and expose children to inappropriate, sexual content.” (See a photo of the event in the Viewshed feature below.)
LGBTQ people in the U.S., particularly gay men and transgender women, have long been smeared as pedophiles and child abusers. That historic context makes this latest round of derogatory attacks from Rosendale and others less surprising, but no less concerning given the recent spate of anti-LGBTQ violence. So what is the best way for an often-stigmatized community to respond?
President of 406 Pride Walt Donges had a straightforward answer when I called earlier this week to ask how he planned to handle protesters at the Wednesday event. In short: make sure the Pride celebrations carry on.
“That’s them. That’s those people that hate us,” he said about the event’s opponents. If LGBTQ people put energy into fighting every allegation levied against them, he said, “we lose our focus. We lose our energy.”
The Drag Queen Story Hour ultimately proceeded without interruption. In a Facebook post later that day, Zoo Montana said the event helped bring in about 2,000 patrons. In comparison, Yellowstone Public Radio reported there were roughly 50 protesters outside the venue.
“All we can say is wow,” the Zoo’s post said. “Thank you for helping turn a tough couple of weeks into an amazingly great day. We are proud.”
—Mara Silvers, Reporter
The drag performer Anita Shadow reads “The Story of Ferdinand” to children and families at Drag Queen Story Hour on Wednesday, June 22, 2022. The event at Zoo Montana is one of several Pride celebrations in Billings being put on by 406 Pride through Sunday.
—Mara Silvers, Reporter
“I have to admit that my patience for fishing, if I’m not catching anything, begins to wane pretty fast. So I had long since decided I just wanted to row the boat, I didn’t care about fishing. But Eric fished every single minute of that day. He never stopped fishing. He didn’t catch any fish, but goddammit, he was going to try. I thought, ‘This guy just doesn’t give up.’”
—Former state Sen. Dick Barrett, recalling a fly fishing trip on the Big Hole River with Montana labor movement lion Eric Feaver. Feaver, the retired president of Montana’s public employee union, died unexpectedly in Helena Wednesday at age 77. Barrett and other Montana leaders remembered Feaver Thursday as a tireless advocate for Montana workers and the state’s public education system.
—Alex Sakariassen, Reporter
Say Again? 🤔
A Wednesday public service announcement from the Flathead County Sheriff’s Office took aim at a high-tech complication as northwest Montana residents face spring flooding — Pokémon-GO-style augmented reality games.
—Eric Dietrich, Reporter
Wildlife Watch 🐟
A multi-year effort to overhaul Madison River regulations in the face of rising recreation pressure was delayed, again, following the Fish and Wildlife Commission’s decision this week not to advance the Madison River Work Group’s recommendations to a formal rulemaking process.
The work group had suggested a permit system for non-guided users, a cap on the annual volume of outfitted trips, and restrictions on inner tube use on the upper stretch of the river to address conflicts between floaters and other users. Increasing river use, drought and a sudden dewatering caused by December’s Hebgen Dam malfunction have raised concern for the future of one of the state’s most popular fisheries. This is at least the third time the commission has attempted to overhaul Madison regulations to address crowding and conflict, with prior efforts stalling out in 2012 and 2019.
Putting the new recommendations out for formal rulemaking would have meant a structured process with a 30-day public comment period and a six-month deadline for finalizing new rules for the river. On Wednesday, the commission voted instead to put the group’s recommendations out for public scoping with Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, a less structured process that will likely see the commission push implementation of any new rules into late 2023, if not 2024.
Work group members who spoke at the commission meeting expressed dismay at the decision, arguing that businesses reliant upon recreational use of the Madison are looking for some more immediate certainty.
Fishing Outfitters Association of Montana Executive Director Mike Bias said his group has been working on this issue for at least a decade and expressed concern that increasing use on the Madison could harm the resource.
“We’ve scoped the Madison more than any other thing in Montana,” he argued. “I’m here today to urge you not to delay.”
Martinsdale commissioner KC Walsh and Bozeman commissioner Pat Byorth, both of whom participated in the work group, pushed for the commission to move forward with rulemaking. They emphasized that the recommendations were adopted unanimously by the work group, which included representation from the outfitting, non-guided recreation and business communities as well as the Bureau of Land Management, which manages fishing access sites along the corridor.
Whitefish commissioner Patrick Tabor, who made the motion to forward the recommendations to public scoping, said his intention was not to discount the group’s work, but to make sure changes of the magnitude the group has proposed receive adequate feedback from the public.
“I look at this as possibly creating a template for how we’re going to manage every river in Montana,” he said. “I’m not in a hurry to do something this monumental.”
FWP will oversee the scoping process. Agency staff gave the commission a verbal commitment to start the process “ASAP” and conclude that process by a commission meeting scheduled for Dec. 16.
—Amanda Eggert, Reporter
Tooting our Horn 🎺
Our team came home from the Montana Newspaper Association’s annual awards banquet last weekend with work from several of our staff reporters recognized by our peers.
Education Reporter Alex Sakariassen picked up a 1st place award for his coverage of a parental rights rally at the Capitol last year. Reporter (and now Deputy Editor) Eric Dietrich also picked up a 3rd place Feature Story award for his October 2021 piece “Growing Home in Ekalaka,” as well as a 2nd place award for his continuing news coverage of Montana’s congressional redistricting process. Additionally, MTFP as a whole won a 2nd-place award for Best Website.
Most notably, though, Environmental Reporter Amanda Eggert’s three-part deep-dive exploring access controversies in the Crazy Mountains landed the association’s Mark Henkel Outdoor Writing Award. While that’s always a competitive category in a state that has many talented environmental reporters, Amanda actually swept it as well — picking up a 2nd place nod for a story on how drought has hit Montana’s cold-water trout fisheries and 3rd place recognition for her look at efforts to turn the lower Yellowstone River into a tourism-fueled economic engine.
Of course, in the grand scheme of things, the opinions of the media industry peers who judge awards contests matter less to our newsroom than the opinions of our readers — particularly those of you who like what we’re doing well enough to support our work as MTFP members. If we’ve published stories the past year that you’d bestow with awards if you were a contest judge, we’d love to hear about them too.
—Brad Tyer, Editor
By the Numbers 🔢
Number of homes classified as primary residences damaged, destroyed or entirely washed away by floods in southwestern Montana this month, per preliminary data gathered by state emergency managers.
The state submitted this figure in its request for individual assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency under the Stafford Act Wednesday. Fifty-three residences were damaged or destroyed in Park County, in addition to 39 in Stillwater County and 23 in Carbon County. If granted by the feds, the request frees up a variety of types of aid for individuals and households in the affected counties, including case management, legal aid, funds for repairs and more.
On Our Radar
Amanda — I really enjoyed this piece in the latest edition of Mountain Outlaw magazine exploring the significance of the Yellowstone region in the Crow culture. It served as an intertribal trading zone, a place for sourcing rare materials and edible and medicinal plants, and a wellspring for ceremony and ritual.
Alex — Among the series of notable rulings from the U.S. Supreme Court this week was a determination that the state of Maine can’t exclude religious schoolsfrom a state-sponsored tuition voucher program. If that sounds familiar, it’s because the Supreme Court reached a similar decision in a 2020 case, overturning a Montana law governing the state’s private school scholarship program.
Eric — If you, like me, occasionally wonder about the product engineering that goes into kitchen utensils (I mean, who doesn’t?), Slate Magazine has the fluff piece on OXO-brand cookware that you didn’t know you needed in your life. Kind of like you didn’t know you need a marginally more comfortable $12 potato peeler in your drawer.
Mara — The landscape for abortion access in the United States has shifted dramatically in recent months, building up to the overturning of Roe v. Wade on Friday. This piece from Kaiser Health News digs into how sovereign tribal nations, with their own unique laws and regulations, will fit into a post-Roe landscape.
Arren — My first job as a Capitol reporter was in Arizona, covering the state House under Republican Speaker Rusty Bowers. NYT’s Maggie Haberman has the story of Bowers’ testimony before the Jan. 6 committee this week about President Donald Trump’s attempt to pressure him to reverse the outcome of Arizona’s presidential election. The kicker, per Arizona’s own AP reporter Bob Christie, is that if Trump were up against Biden in 2024, Bowers says he would vote for the former president again.
*Some articles may be behind a paywall.