Mike Matejka: Not In Our Town marks 25 years

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25 years ago, Dec. 12, 1995, was the first local “Not In Our Town (NIOT)” gathering. Inspired by the Working Group’s PBS film of that name, community members gathered to view and discuss the half-hour film about anti-discrimination efforts in Billings, Montana. Two days later a youth forum was held. From this, a local movement was born.

In January 1996, both Bloomington and Normal were voting to include LGBTQ people in their human relations ordinance. The vote failed in both communities. More forums followed, and July 16 was the first “Not In Our Town” anti-racism march, organized by the late Rev. Frank McSwain Sr., plus Marc and Darlene Miller. “Not In Our Town” signs were officially erected at the community’s entrances.

In the intervening 25 years, numerous local marches, vigils, forums, film showings and community gatherings followed. The Working Group in California soon focused its efforts on NIOT, producing more films and acting as a clearing house for communities. The national organization recognizes that although the initial film was about Billings, it was Bloomington-Normal that took the concept and created a sustained effort. Their second film, “Not In Our Town II,” featured this community. From its initial emphasis on racism, NIOT grew to stand against all discrimination, whether by sexual orientation, race, class, gender or religion.

Some have viewed “Not In Our Town” as a ruse, as discrimination certainly still exists here. Never has the claim been made that the work is complete – NIOT is aspirational, trying to live up to its mission to “stop hate, address bullying and build a safe and inclusive community.” The all-volunteer effort will continue as long as there is a need, hoping to serve as a community inoculation and build appreciation for our diversity.

Columns,Region: Bloomington,City: Bloomington,Opinion,Region: Central

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December 6, 2020 at 05:32PM

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