Acts of hate have attempted to make a comeback in the Billings area and it should not be treated lightly.
On Jan. 25 swastikas were found on a gay-pride flag hanging in Grace United Methodist Church. Pamphlets that read “STOP THE FAGS” were also discovered inside of the church. Swastikas were later found in Pioneer Park, Lewis and Clark Middle School, and Senior High School.
These malicious act should not be taken lightly because they did not happen on a whim. Back in November of 2016, a swastika was found painted on the Rims, almost directly across from Montana State University Billings, taunting onlookers.
Nearly a year-and-a-half later, the derogatory sign moved from a common space to a targeted establishment. Whoever is responsible for the distasteful work is making it personal. That alone should spark major concern.
Billings Mayor Bill Cole was quoted in the Billings Gazette stating that the acts that took place “are not a prank or a minor infraction that can be tolerated…Swastikas and hate speech are intended to intimidate and imply a threat of physical violence.”
Some may think that since they are not members of the church or affiliated with the schools in that area that this problem does not concern them; however it should.
Grace United Methodist Church is located off of Avenue B. That is only 1.1 miles, or a four-minute drive away from Rocky Mountain College’s campus. The “so what” behind that information has to do with the fact that RMC has students who are a part of the LGBTQ community.
The institution itself and many other students, myself included, take pride in the intimate and small community feel that RMC has established. RMC should continue to be a safe space where students from all walks of life can receive a quality education and not feel as though they are a walking target for derogatory slander.
This matters because while suicide is the second highest cause of death for people ages 10 to 24, LGBTQ college students are four times more likely to suffer from depression symptoms and contemplate suicide than their heterosexual peers, according to a 2017 study from Rutgers University.
Knowing this information, it would be disheartening to find out that one of RMC’s LGTBQ students took their own life because they felt unsafe or unwelcomed in the community that they belong to.
Some may say that since the majority of Montana is Republican that the drawing of swastikas is bound to happen, but that is simply a fallacy. Not all Republicans are racist or prejudiced. However, regardless of political affiliation, tolerating hateful behavior is laziness in one of its many forms and it teaches our youth that it is okay to treat their peers with disrespect.
Some may argue that what happened on the Rims and at the church is just an individual exercising their First Amendment right to which I strongly disagree. While there is protection of free speech, there is no amendment protecting graffiti. Graffiti is illegal because it defaces property.
What happened at the church should be treated as a crime and taken seriously because why would anyone want to defend a symbol that is associated with genocide and hate? We know from Billings’ past how important and revolutionary coming together as a community can be.
Let us not forget that back in 1995 white supremacists attempted to make a home for themselves in Billings and made different ethnic groups the target of their hate crimes. The people of Billings rose up as a community, defended their neighbors, and said “Not in our town,” driving out the terrorists.
What occurred at Grace United and the surrounding area was deplorable, but it should serve as a reminder to the community that if you see something immoral, speak out. There is strength in numbers
If we do not speak out on issues that affect the community then malicious behavior will assume that it is welcomed; that it has the right to make others feel uneasy.