PROMO, Missouri's statewide advocacy organization for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender equality, has named Steph Perkins, 31, as its new Executive Director.
Perkins has been with the organization for seven years. The new Executive Director said he intends to pay attention to issues like discriminatory legislation and health care as well as day-to-day inequalities.
He said he intends to show PROMO’s constituency that the organization is under committed, permanent leadership. St. Louis Public Radio's Willis Ryder Arnold asked Perkins seven questions about assuming a permanent leadership role.
STLPR: What does this appointment mean to you? What are your priorities?
SP: Some of the things that we’ve been working on we’re still really prioritizing like nondiscrimination and health equity for LGBT folks and their families. But I also want to make sure that we have a really specific focus on transgender people and their families, what it means to transition and have documents that match someone’s preferred gender; having health care that matches their transition-related care; and being able to have coverage for preventive care. So, making sure that we’re not just focused on LGBT folks overall but also looking at how those individual folks within our movement are facing some struggles.
STLPR: What will be your first steps in this official capacity?
SP: This will really be a way for me to ensure that we have lasting leadership. One of the priorities and goals right now for me and the rest of the team is to really focus on our legislative work because we have several anti-LGBT bills that are some of the worst that we’ve seen in quite a while, particularly around religious exemption. So we’re just going to keep digging in there to stop these bills.
STLPR: So what’s at risk with these bills?
SP: There are several different versions of these religious exemption bills but one of the things that we’re really worried about with these bills is that they will essentially gut out part of the existing Missouri Human Rights Act. So, not only would they affect LGBT folks, but they would also affect other protected categories like when it comes to discrimination because of their race, or religion or disability. Essentially, what they do is expand the religious exemptions portion of the human rights act so that more people are exempt from the Missouri Human Rights Act on the basis of religious belief or religious practice. And while we absolutely believe that religion is a fundamental right and that it’s protected by the current U.S. Constitution and the current Human Rights Act, to expand this definition to include folks that own private businesses and hospitals would be really damaging and harmful to the community.
STLPR: How will you be approaching these issues?
SP: We’ve already begun asking businesses and faith leaders and members of the community to voice their opposition to these bills. We have a petition you can sign on our website. We’ve been really asking folks to say why these bills would be harmful for them or to their company. There are several larger businesses in the state that have signed on in support of the Missouri Nondiscrimination Act and now we’re asking those same folks to oppose the expanded religious exemptions so we don’t see happen in Missouri what has happened in states like Indiana, Arizona and — hopefully not — now Georgia.
STLPR: What are the most pressing health issues facing these communities that you plan to address?
SP: Really we’re focusing on making sure that access to care is as equitable and affirming as possible. So working with hospital systems to update their internal policies to make sure that their employees are safe, their patients are safe and visitors who come and visit are safe as well. This also has to do with insurance coverage as well, making sure that people have access to preventive and transition-related care and to make sure they’re not excluded like many insurance companies currently exclude them.
STLPR: What evolutions do you see in the continued push for acceptance of LGBTQ marriages?
SP: It’s about doing some things that seem less exciting like paperwork. When someone goes to update their name or even have a child and have a birth certificate, it doesn’t just have mother or father, or man and woman on it, but that we’re making paperwork more accessible to LGBT folks who are married or getting married. We don’t often think about how marriage affects discrimination. But there are a lot of people who are not out at work because they know they may face discrimination in the workplace. But when they get married they may want to access some of those marriage benefits like health insurance for their spouse or updating their tax information to be able to file as married. So they are essentially forced to out themselves in some situations.
STLPR: What are other issues you intend to address that people might not necessarily expect?
SP: I think a lot of what we're doing now is the work that affects people’s daily lives but that we may not immediately consider when we think about the LGBT movement. And those are things like paperwork. Those are things like working to remove transgender exclusion from insurance paperwork; things like making it easier for trans people to have identification documents that match their gender and their name when they transition so they are safe when they are opening a bank account or having a drink at a restaurant so when they have to show their ID in these everyday situations it continues to be a safe interaction with them. A lot of these things are things we don’t necessarily think of immediately but affect people every single day of their lives.
Follow Willis Ryder Arnold on Twitter @WillisRArnold