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Government, Politics & Issues

Supporters back local laws against LGBT discrimination

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, May 4, 2012 - A push is underway to convince the St. Louis County Council and municipalities in the region to pass laws barring discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

At a news conference Friday morning at Olivette City Hall, Democratic state representatives, municipal leaders, civil rights advocates and union officials called for ordinances aimed at protecting gay, lesbian, transgendered or bisexual residents from housing, employment or public accommodation discrimination.

Those gathered at the press conference called for St. Louis County municipalities and the St. Louis County Council to take action. The council would have to act, they say, so that measures against LGBT discrimination could become effective in unincorporated parts of the county.

“We’ve heard the stories and we know this type of discrimination actually exists,” said Rep. Stacey Newman, D-Richmond Heights. “Unfortunately, in most parts of St. Louis County, gay people can still be fired simply for being gay. Lesbians can be denied the American dream of owning a home. And transgendered citizens can still be denied access to coffee shops and libraries. This form of discrimination is nothing new.”

Newman said that “absolutely no state or federal protections” for the LGBT community exist, but added that cities across the country have “inclusive protections.”

“While numerous cities have already incorporated these protections, we are now calling on our local municipalities to do the same,” she said.

Added Rep. Scott Sifton, D-Affton: “For individuals who come to work every day and fear their identity being exposed or used against them, the workplace can be a scary place.”

“It’s a little hard sometimes to talk about what you did last weekend if you’re concerned with an adverse job action based off your orientation or identity,” Sifton said. “Very simply put, hardworking, highly performing employees should not be fired simply for being gay.”

St. Louis City, Kansas City, Columbia, Kirksville, University City, Olivette, Clayton and Richmond Heights have passed ordinances barring discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

“I consider what we did to be a decidedly positive step forward for Olivette,” said Olivette Councilman Leif Hauser. “Not only showing our support for the many same-sex couples who maintain households in our city, but beyond our city limits supporting the general enhancement of equality.”

Andrew Shaughnessy, the St. Louis and southeast Missouri regional field organizer for PROMO, said it will be up individual municipalities – and the St. Louis County Council – on how to enforce ordinances that bar LGBT discrimination.

“Hundreds of cities have already done this and enforced it effectively. I know that our local municipalities – particularly in St. Louis County – will be able to find away where they too can be able to enforce these,” Shaughnessy said.

Some Missouri lawmakers have been attempting to amend the state’s Human Rights Act to incorporate sexual orientation, with little success. The Missouri House overwhelmingly rejected an amendment to make that change in mid-April.

“There’s no movement, there’s no effort,” said Newman, referring to Rep. Stephen Webber’s legislation. “But remember at the same time we have House Bill 2051 that’s trying to discriminate ever further. So we can’t even talk about removing discrimination that’s out there when there are efforts to not even recognize that we need to protect everyone."

Newman was referring to the proposal of state Rep. Steve Cookson, R-Fairdealing, that would curtail discussion of sexual orientation in public schools. Cookson's bill - which is unlikely to pass this session - experienced an intense backlash and drew national media attention.

Passing laws on a municipal level, Newman said, is a “different avenue” to protect LGBT individuals from discrimination.

“Local municipalities like the ones we’ve mentioned are all realizing that discrimination is wrong, regardless of who you are,” she said. “And if municipalities will stand up, we hope that St. Louis County will stand up and do everyone. And that will definitely produce momentum in the legislature.”

A spokesman for St. Louis County Executive Charlie Dooley said she was seeking out reaction to the proposal. St. Louis Council Chairman Michael O’Mara, D-Florissant, also didn’t return a message from the Beacon.

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