Alleged Rosendale screaming match over ZooMontana leads to resignation of PTA Montana Treasurer

Argument over Drag Queen Story Hour took place in Rosendale’s D.C. office, congressman denies her account

By: - June 22, 2022 6:53 pm

A line of people waiting to get into the “Drag Queen Story Hour” event at ZooMontana. The line wrapped around the entrance on June 22, 2022 (Photo by Darrell Ehrlick of the Daily Montanan).

Rebecca Noell said she was shaking last week as she filmed a video of herself just after a meeting with U.S. Rep. Matt Rosendale and staff in his Washington, D.C., office turned into a screaming match.

In D.C. for the National PTA’s annual convention, Noell said in the video the congressman barged into the room during her meeting with his staff about topics related to schools, and after a pleasant introduction, things went south.

Noell said she does not recall the specific subject Rosendale was responding to, but he made a critical remark about ZooMontana hosting Drag Queen Story Hour, an event the congressman characterized in a tweet the week prior as promotion of child abuse.

​Drag Queen Story Hour celebrates reading “through the glamorous art of drag” in the U.S. and beyond, as described on the chapter network’s website.  This year is the first the zoo hosted a story hour, but it has held other events affiliated with Pride month in the past.

Noell, wife to ZooMontana Development Director Pete Bolenbaugh, said she responded in the meeting to Rosendale that ZooMontana was a community space for all Montanans. In an interview with the Daily Montanan, Noell said she did not believe Rosendale knew of her connection to the zoo.

“He started yelling over the top of me,” Noell said through tears in the video. “He’s literally shouting at me, pointing his finger at me.”

Noell said she went into “fight or flight” mode and shouted back.

“Thank you for your inflammatory tweets that are going to invite violence in our community in Billings,” she said. Noell later added that Rosendale responded by yelling “you’re welcome” over her in a manner she described as “very threatening.”

At that point, she decided to leave Rosendale’s office and was walked out of the building by his staff, with Noell saying she was still angry and swearing.

“I don’t mean to swear at you, but he is a f—ing a—– and I cannot wait, cannot wait to vote for Buchanan,” she said before the recording stops. Gary Buchanan is running against Rosendale as an independent in Montana’s eastern congressional district in November.

PTA advocacy

Noell was visiting with Montana’s congressional delegation, U.S. Sens. Jon Tester, Steve Daines and Rosendale, as part of her work with Montana PTA, but Wednesday, she resigned her position.

One of four people in the Montana PTA delegation that was in Rosendale’s office for the meeting, the group discussed bills on gun control, mental health, childhood nutrition and FY2022 Reconciliation and FY2023 Appropriations to congressional staff. The meeting took place on “Hill Day” during the National PTA’s convention and its 125th anniversary.

When reached with questions Wednesday about the experience Noell relayed about the meeting with the congressman, the other members of the PTA who were in attendance declined to comment and provided a statement to the Daily Montanan.

Garri Mauch, Montana PTA advocacy chair who attended the meeting with Noell, said both national and statewide PTA organizations had no comment in relation to Noell.

Montana PTA President Sheryl Scheafer expressed gratitude to Rosendale’s Legislative Assistant, Kevin Pham, for showing interest and support for Montana PTA in the statement to the Daily Montanan on Wednesday but otherwise declined comment.

Noell told the Daily Montanan on Wednesday afternoon that she was disappointed the other members of the PTA delegation didn’t have her back and decided to resign her position with the organization. She said she served as Treasurer since October 2019.

Rosendale’s version

Rosendale disagrees with Noell’s version of events, he said in a statement sent to the Daily Montanan. He did not specifically address the allegation the conversation escalated into a shouting match.

“Mr. Rosendale discussed a variety of topics with the group including his concerns over the sexualization of elementary school-aged children. He expressed his belief that hosting drag events at family-friendly public venues is inappropriate and that children should be safeguarded from such exposure,” the statement sent Wednesday morning read. “Mr. Rosendale agrees that Montana welcomes everyone, however made clear his concerns that exposing young children to sexuality is inappropriate.

“Mr. Rosendale is always happy to engage in meaningful discussions and is happy to talk to any Montanan regardless of their political ideology.”

In the statement, he thanked the Montana PTA group for visiting and said he always welcomes Montanans into his office.

Legislative assistant Pham, who was in the meeting, deferred questions from the Daily Montanan to the communications staff.

Looking forward

As for what’s next for Noell in light of her resignation, she said Wednesday she’s going to take time to care for her 9-year-old son and soon-to-be 11-year-old daughter and is “open to the future.”

She didn’t believe her husband received threats like those that were directed towards ZooMontana Executive Director Jeff Ewelt and the board, and said that not having a social media presence may have helped. Last week, messages like “I know where you live!” were sent to Ewelt, along with threats to run him out of town and false accusations of pedophilia, but Wednesday, the story hour event drew much support (see sidebar at bottom of story).

“I think people are scared of other people that they just either don’t understand or don’t agree with,” she said of the rise in anti-LGBTQ hate. “Internet culture gives people a way to be loud without being seen, necessarily, and it just emboldens people to share hate.”

Originally, Noell said she recorded the video with the intention of sharing it exclusively with her husband and ZooMontana director Ewelt, but since then, she said she wants as many people as possible to view it because she hopes it influences how others view Rosendale’s candidacy in November.

“He came into that room on a day when the Yellowstone River in Billings was higher than it’s ever been,” she said. “My heart was at home, and I feel like he just really showed me that he doesn’t care about what happens at home.”

This is not the first time Rosendale has been accused of public outbursts. Last year, four people said the congressman yelled at union members in Butte, giving them the middle finger and telling them to “go cry to Tester,” referring to Montana’s senior senator. Rosendale’s spokesman denied the account.

Noell said she doesn’t want an apology from Rosendale, saying this altercation showed her who he was.

“I think that he was expecting support for his righteous indignation,” she said. “He was pretty surprised with the reaction here.”

Noell said the day after the meeting, she went to the National Gallery of Art and had to take a photo of the oil painting “Tiger and Snake” from French painter Ferdinand Victor Eugène Delacroix .

“Tiger and Snake” an 1862 oil painting from French painter Eugène Delacroix. Courtesy of the National Gallery of Art

“I’m the Tiger.”

Drag Queen Story Hour at ZooMontana

406 Pride held its first Drag Queen Story Hour on Wednesday at ZooMontana with more than 2,000 in attendance at the Zoo, more than 460 check-ins at the event itself and an estimated 200 plus kids, according to Director Jeff Ewelt on Wednesday.

The opening book being read at the “Read with a Queen” event at ZooMontana on June 22, 2022 (Photo by Darrell Ehrlick).

While this wasn’t record-breaking attendance for the Zoo, Ewelt said, it was much higher than the 500 that would be expected on a Wednesday at the zoo in the summertime.

The first queen read “Families, Families,” a children’s book about all different types of families.

“We are extremely happy with seeing the smiles on everybody’s faces today. It was such a wonderful family friendly day, people were laughing, they were having fun. It was awesome to see,” Ewelt said. “There is a community within our community that needed this today, and that is why we are so proud to host this event and give them a safe space to celebrate who they are.”

There were at least five uniformed officers standing by, with Ewelt confirming a counterprotest of about 40 to 50 people. Ewelt said the protesters were respectful, with only one person causing an issue.

“These drag queens and the queer group, they’re coming after our children, and the church has one job, penetrating culture and defending the church,” protester and Billings resident Grover Peterson said, while holding a sign. “I’m happy to be here, but there should have been 5,000 people, 10,000 people, maybe 80,000 people. This is war in our community.”

One of several groups of protesters along Zoo Drive in Billings on June 22, 2022 (Photo by Darrell Ehrlick of the Daily Montanan).

Ewelt commented on Noell’s account of the events that took place in Rosendale’s office last week saying it was disappointing.

“For a Montana group to be visiting with Rosendale about other matters and that this even was brought up is just extremely unprofessional,” Ewelt said.

Editor’s note: Editor Darrell Ehrlick contributed to this story from Billings. Ehrlick previously served on the board of ZooMontana.


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Nicole Girten
Nicole Girten

Nicole Girten is a reporter for the Daily Montanan. She previously worked at the Great Falls Tribune as a government watchdog reporter. She holds a degree from Florida State University and a Master of Science from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University.