Nicole Girten

(Daily Montanan) The Butte-Silver Bow County employee who canceled a transgender woman’s lecture at the library citing the drag ban law said in a court filing this week he gave her opportunities to reschedule and comply with the law, and therefore did not violate her right to free speech.

In the filing Monday, Butte-Silver Bow County Executive JP Gallagher said he called and emailed the woman, Adria Jawort, to find a solution that would allow her to give a speech at the library in Butte without violating the law enacted by House Bill 359, which prohibits drag in libraries. He said he canceled Jawort’s scheduled lecture “out of an abundance of caution due to concerns that the talk would violate HB 359.”

Attorneys for defendants in the federal lawsuit over the constitutionality of Montana’s drag ban, signed into law in May, filed their responses to plaintiffs’ requests for a preliminary injunction. Jawort is one of nearly a dozen plaintiffs in the suit, along with Montana Pride, which went forward during the weekend in Helena after the judge granted a temporary restraining order against the drag ban.

The temporarily restrained law bans drag in libraries and schools during normal business hours, as well as on public property within view of minors.

Jawort claimed in canceling her lecture at the library, slated to cover indigenous and transgender history as herself and not in drag, Gallagher infringed on her First Amendment right of freedom of speech and expression. Constance Van Kley, an attorney for the plaintiffs, told the Daily Montanan, as she did in a letter to Gallagher, that conditioning Jawort’s speech to comply with the law meant there was still a limitation of her right to speak.

In the filing, Gallagher denied the county’s decision to cancel the lecture was based on the content of her speech. He also denied saying a quote that was attributed to him in previous filings in which a librarian said in an email to Jawort and other recipients that Gallagher and the county attorney “decided it is too much of a risk to have a trans-person in the library.”

“The statement is not accurate and was not authorized by (Butte-Silver Bow) to be made by the librarian,” the filing read.

Gallagher said neither he nor the county attorney were able to determine whether the lecture would have exposed county employees to criminal penalties or civil liability – similar to what the city of Helena said in its filing in July, when it ultimately advocated for the judge to grant the temporary restraining order against the drag ban.

Attorneys representing defendants Attorney General Austin Knudsen and Superintendent of Public Instruction Elsie Arntzen responded in a separate filing earlier this month claiming plaintiffs did not meet the requirements by law for a preliminary injunction.

The filing said it was clear the Legislature considers the conduct banned under the law to be “potentially harmful to minors and intends to protect them by limiting their potential exposure to the same.”

“The bill is not aimed at banning or suppressing a performer’s sexual expression but is instead
overwhelmingly concerned with the harmful secondary effects of sexually expressive conduct on minors,” the filing read.

It added that neither Artzen and Knudsen would be responsible for enforcing the law.

“Not only are Plaintiffs’ concerns of criminal or administrative prosecution entirely speculative, but they also failed to name the parties that would actually control the initiation and disposition of the adverse proceedings they claim to fear,” the filing read.

Van Kley said plaintiffs would be responding to their filing next week ahead of the hearing for the preliminary injunction on Aug. 28.