When I was 17, I joined the Army National Guard. I completed basic training before the end of high school and by 2009, I began my service. I am proud to be an American, I am proud to have served my country, and I am proud to be a member of the LGBTQ community. Marrying my wife was the happiest day of my life. Our love would prove to be a haven of safety and comfort, and necessary to survive the pain of the experiences to come.

In 2014, my wife, 6-year-old son, and I moved from Great Falls to Billings to be close to our giant Irish-Catholic family. I was tasked with the responsibility of finding a home for us to rent. I arrived at an open house and, after a tour, asked the landlord for an application. The landlord looked at me reluctantly and asked who else would be joining me, and whether my fiancée was a girl or a boy. Upon hearing “girl,” the landlord looked me directly in the eye and promptly said, “I do not rent to your kind.”

Confusion, anger, and sadness raced through my head. What exactly is “my kind”? To me, “my kind” is a good person with a stable job and excellent rental history in search for a home for her family. “My kind’” has a history of being actively involved in her community, volunteering for Little League and helping out in the schools. “My kind” raised her right hand and served her country with pride and sacrifice. I couldn’t believe that this was even legal. There was nothing I could do, no policy that existed that would give me the support to stand up to someone who had treated me with such prejudice and disrespect. All because of who I loved.

I began to heal. I took a position at a car dealership and was quickly promoted for excellent performance, working long hours and clearly exceeding my sales goals. In spite of my hard work, I was approached by the manager who, with tears in his eyes, said “I don’t know how to tell you this, but I was told I had to fire you.” He admitted that the new owner and his son “did not like me,” and that I was to be terminated before Monday, before the end of my six-month probationary period. I asked him why they didn’t like me. “Because you are gay,” he said.

Just like that, my family lost income for three months. Because of two powerful people’s bitter and ignorant judgment, my wife and son had to suffer. My hope in sharing my story is that I can put a face and a voice to those affected and hurt by the lack of protection against discrimination for LGBTQ people. We, like every other Montanan, deserve to be judged by the content of our character, rather than who we love.

Kathleen O’Donnell lives in Laurel. Her uncle is Rep. Kelly McCarthy of Billings.

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