A.J. Bockelman, head of Missouri's LGBT advocacy group, resigns, eyes politics | St. Louis Public Radio

A.J. Bockelman, head of Missouri's LGBT advocacy group, resigns, eyes politics

Sep 1, 2015

The executive director of Missouri’s statewide organization for LGBT equality is leaving his post at the end of October. But it's possible he might later continue his work in a different arena: Jefferson City.

A.J. Bockleman has been executive director of PROMO since 2007. He announced today he’s stepping down after eight years of what often felt like an uphill, non-stop fight for LGBT rights.

“It has been a challenging environment,” Bockelman said.

It’s a decision he’s thought about for two years. As the nation and Missourians watched the fall of the Defense of Marriage Act, the beginning of federal then state income tax rights and the arrival of marriage equality, Bockelman waited for the right moment.

"It seems like a very good time to make an exit and usher in the next wave," Bockelman said.

A seat in the legislature?

As PROMO's executive director, Bockelman has spent much of his time — and fought many of his toughest battles — in the Missouri General Assembly. Often, he found himself trying to win over people he once thought were on his team.

Classically, the Democratic Party was supposed to be on our side. - A.J. Bockelman, PROMO's outgoing executive director

"Classically, the Democratic Party was supposed to be on our side, and the work we've had to do to shore that up in a number of different ways has been pretty interesting," Bockelman said.

Now, he said, a number of Republicans are also in the fight for LGBT rights.

It's possible Bockelman could eventually re-enter the fray. He's leaving PROMO to dedicate himself to family for a while, after the deaths of his mother, father and brother and in the face of other family health issues. But he's also thinking about what's next.

Possibilities include working for one of PROMO's corporate partners or a national LGBT advocacy group. But he also has an eye on the legislature.

"I've looked a little bit at political seats," Bockelman said.

He noted that Missouri currently has only one LGBT person in Jeff City, Rep. Mike Colona, who will leave after 2016. Colona is only one of four "out" politicians to have ever been in the Missouri General Assembly.

“I think it’s important to have an ‘out’ LGBT voice in the state legislature," he said. "We don't have any other 'out' candidates tapped to run for office."

Left to right. Jessica Liss, Michelle Smith and A.J. Bockelman talked with St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh about transgender issues this past Thursday.
Credit Provided by Áine O’Connor/St. Louis Public Radio

Bockelman said he also wants to see more attention on transgender issues.

He has two upcoming chances to take his mission to Jeff City. Bockelman lives where Rep. Michele Kratky will term out in after 2016 and Sen. Joe Keaveny two years later.

"So I will give some thought to that," Bockelman said.

Optimism for end to discrimination in housing, workplace

One thing Bockelman wishes he'd seen come to fruition is the passage of a bill that's languished in Jeff City for many years: the Missouri Nondiscrimination Act, known as MONA. The measure would make it illegal for an employer to fire someone or fail to promote them because of their sexual orientation, or gender identity or expression. It would also prevent discrimination in renting or buying a home.

I think that within three to five years, we have the [LGBT] protections extended either at the state level or the federal level. - A.J. Bockelman, PROMO's outgoing executive director

At the same time, federal legislation that would implement these changes in Missouri and other states is moving forward. Bockelman is confident that, one way or another, the law will change. 

“I think that within three to five years, we have the protections extended either at the state level or the federal level, one of the two. Both seem elusive at this point in time, but public opinion is quickly changing," he said.

PROMO deputy director Steph Perkins will become interim executive director while a search committee looks for a permanent replacement.

Follow Nancy Fowler on Twitter: @NancyFowlerSTL