UPDATED: Sen. Theresa Manzella responds to backlash from LGBTQ comments

Democratic leadership is asking Manzella be removed from her interim committee duties

By: - November 24, 2021 1:39 pm

A large group gathers at the Montana Capitol on March 15, 2021 during a LGBTQ rally (Photo by Eric Seidle for the Daily Montanan).

Hamilton Sen. Theresa Manzella is maintaining comments she made at an event last week that have prompted backlash for being disparaging to the LGBTQ community were taken out of context, though she has not denied making them, nor has she asked the Missoulian, which first reported the remarks, to issue a correction.

In response to Manzella’s remarks, legislative leaders of Montana’s Democratic party sent a letter to Senate President Mark Blasdel, R-Kalispell, on Friday calling on him to condemn the comments and to remove Manzella from the Children, Families, Health and Human Services Interim Committee.

At a  “God, Country, Family” event in Clinton last week, the Missoulian reported Manzella saying LGBTQ people like to “play the protected class card” and suggested that fears of violence felt among members of the LGBTQ community “are normal consequences associated with the choices they made.”

On Facebook, Manzella said that the comments were taken out of context but did not explain further. A transcript of the remarks can be found here.

“If you read my presentation in whole and in context, you will see that it was all about equality and inclusivity. We’re all sinners, and we’re all members of the human race,” Manzella said in a text message to the Daily Montanan.

In their letter to Blasdel, House Minority Leader Kim Abbott, D-Helena, and Senate Minority Leader Jill Cohenour, D-East Helena, called the remarks “offensive, dangerous and unacceptable.”

They continued, “LGBTQ Montanans have always been valued members of our communities, and they deserve the basic dignity and respect owed to everyone in our state — the most basic of which is to be able to live their lives without fear of violence.”

Blasdel did not respond to an email or voicemail Monday asking for comment on Manzella’s remarks or if he had any intention of removing her from the Children, Families, Health and Human Services Interim Committee.

In a text message to the Daily Montanan, Manzella had the same message to legislators and the LGBTQ community criticizing her remarks.

“To the legislators: They need to read the entire presentation in context, or better yet, watch the video. To the LGBTQ community: read the whole transcript or watch the video. I think you’ll have a different perspective,” she said.

Also, in a text message, Manzella doubled down that feelings of fear and discrimination by LGBTQ people result from their life decisions. 

“Does the LGBT community wish to be treated equally in our society? Then they need to be able to deal with the challenges life throws at all of us, which includes being a minority at times, dealing with discrimination, and facing our own personal fears in a civil manner,” she said.

The remarks were made during an event to support Clinton pastor Brandon Huber, who is facing a possible ethics complaint with the Missoula Organization of Realtors for “hate speech” for opting out of distributing free lunches in partnership with the Missoula Food Bank this summer because the food bank had included an LGBTQ “Pride” coloring sheet with the lunches.

Huber, a pastor at the Clinton Community Church and part-time real estate agent, has filed a lawsuit against the realtor’s organization, saying a new policy from the National Association of Realtors violates his ability to exercise his religious beliefs.

Along with the letter to Blasdel, members of Montana’s Democratic party took to social media to voice their concerns with Manzella’s remarks.

“Some people don’t understand what it’s like to grow up gay in a state like Montana. Violence was something I saw, experienced, and feared constantly. To say violence is just the ‘Consequences’ we must face for living our lives shows the rot of your character,” wrote former Missoula Sen. Bryce Bennett, who is gay.

Sen. Diane Sands, D-Missoula, told MTN News that Manzella should retract the statement to show she is not justifying violence against gays. “I think it’s a very damn thin line between condoning violence or inciting violence against people you don’t agree with,” Sands, who is also gay, told MTN.

And Kevin Hamm, president of Big Sky Pride, said remarks like Manzella’s are nothing new. “At the end of the day, we have dealt with people like Theresa Manzella for centuries,” he said, adding, her comments show a lack of education and empathy about the LGBTQ community.

“I try not to listen to her, but I know others do. Just know that the LGBTQIA+ community isn’t going anywhere, no matter what anyone says. But I learned years ago not to sling mud with the swine,” he said.

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Keith Schubert
Keith Schubert

Keith Schubert is a reporter for the Daily Montanan. Keith was born and raised in Wisconsin and graduated from the University of Minnesota in 2019. He has worked at the St.Paul Pioneer Press, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and most recently, the Asbury Park Press, covering everything from local craft fairs to crime and courts to municipal government to the Minnesota state legislature. In his free time, he enjoys cheering on Wisconsin sports teams and exploring small businesses. He can be reached by text or call at 406-475-2954 .