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Arts & Culture

Montana Pride Celebration Draws Support, Criticism

Two men stand waving the pride flag
Guillaume Paumier
Flickr (CC BY 2.0)
Two men stand waving the pride flag in Toulouse, France

It’s national Pride Month and, in Montana, Big Sky Pride is responsible for dropping by a different community annually and holding a series of events to celebrate. It’s one of the only groups currently doing so in the state.

Big Sky Pride held its festivities in Helena this year from Tuesday through Sunday. Events included a pottery night, a foam party and a parade.

Organizer Kevin Hamm says since 2014 they’ve held pride events in Butte, Missoula, Great Falls, Helena, and in 2017 Billings.

As of date, that’s as far east as the organization has gone in Montana.

Hamm says holding a pride event takes community investment and local leadership.

“We’re faced with how do we move this event that is getting bigger every year to some of these towns that don’t have capacity, don’t have hotel rooms, have never seen anything like this, and don’t have a thriving local community that is willing to be out and loud?” he says.

Hamm is hopeful about change in the state.

He says he sees the temptation for gay people to relocate to metropolises like New York and San Fancisco that are traditionally known as being gay-friendly.

“But what it does, because it eliminates us from being part of the communities in rural America, it stops us from being safe in rural America because nobody knows us. So we have these events where we literally scatter about the town and we’re big and bold and covered in glitter, but everybody sees us, everybody meets us, and they’re like, oh, they’re just people like us,” he says.

Hamm says a group of people Big Sky Pride partnered with in 2017 has since formed its own gay pride celebration in Billings.

Nonprofit 406 Pride is holding a parade and festival in Billings on September 7th.

While the Pride movement has been growing, it still remains controversial in many areas.

Montana's Republican legislative leaders are criticizing Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock for flying the gay pride rainbow flag instead of the state flag over the weekend.

House Speaker Greg Hertz and Senate President Scott Sales accused Bullock Monday of disrespecting the state flag that flies over the Capitol in Helena in an attempt to stand out in his long-shot presidential campaign.

The Great Falls Tribune reports Bullock requested the flag to fly on behalf of the LGBTQ community and Saturday's Big Sky Pride parade in Helena.

Bullock spokeswoman Marissa Perry says the rainbow flag was raised in celebration and in recognition of the gay community's contributions, and not as a political statement.

She notes the Montana state flag also is replaced by the Irish flag each year on St. Patrick's Day.