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Health, Science, Environment

Missouri's lack of protection for LGBT people creates problems without easy solutions

Panelist Dr. Karen Edison, who helps create health policy surveys at the University of Missouri, said she was once threatened with a loss of funding for including survey questions about sexual orientation. AJ Bockleman of PROMO sits to her right.
Durrie Bouscaren | St. Louis Public Radio

Sometimes, state and federal law are in conflict.

Rules for the protection of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people is one example. Even though the federal government prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity on many counts, Missouri state law does not include those protections. 

Resolving those conflicts was the focus of a summit Wednesday between members of the LGBT community, their advocates and representatives from five federal agencies. 

“We can still be fired from our job, denied access to housing and public accommodation,” said Andrew Shaughnessy, manager of public policy for Promoting Equality for All Missourians, or PROMO.  “Engaging health and social service organizations in updating their policies has been a huge push from us.”

During a plenary session at Washington University in St. Louis, panelists from the U.S. Departments of Health and Human Services, Agriculture, Justice, Housing and Urban Development and the Small Business Administration outlined their outreach efforts for LGBT people.

Panelist Eddie Wartts, the director of the St. Louis field office for HUD, said his agency recently released new rules for homeless shelters.

“What that rule says is the housing provider should provide shelter based on their gender identity. Despite what ID they have in their pocket, they have to consider what the person is saying, and also consider any health and safety issues they may incur while in that facility,” Wartts said.

But at the state level, such protections are not always in place. During a workshop on improving public health data for the LGBT community, epidemiologist Janet Wilson from the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services said her team has only recently been able to include survey questions about sexual orientation and gender identity in statewide health reports.

While coordinating an anonymous health survey at high schools, Wilson said some high school principals rejected the idea of asking the students questions about their sexual orientation. Because the survey required the state to take data from randomly chosen schools, they would lose the data if the schools opted out.  

“I’m not willing to gamble losing the data we have yet,” she said.  

But in other statewide surveys, Wilson said questions about sexual orientation and gender identity have been readily accepted by participants. Only one percent of people refused to answer a question about whether or not they were transgender during a 2007 survey. 

Panelist KB Frazier, an audiologist, activist and organizer for Queer Trans People of Color STL, listens to speakers during a panel about addressing violence against trans and queer communities of color.
Durrie Bouscaren | St. Louis Public Radio

 “We had a greater percentage refusal for questions about their income,” Wilson said.

Another panel discussed high rates of violence against queer and transgender people of color.

Panelist KB Frazier, who works with Queer Trans People of Color STL, said LGBT advocacy must be more inclusive. Racism and the cycle of poverty are often compounded for transgender people of color, but those issues aren’t often a focus for LGBT advocates, he said. Leadership in LGBT advocacy work tends to be white and male.

“We have so many issues and they’re layered. We have to address them simultaneously so that people who are trans and gender non-conforming can live authentically without fear, without fear of rejection from society,” Frazier said.

Follow Durrie Bouscaren on Twitter: @durrieB

An earlier version of this article misidentified Andrew Shaughnessy as A.J. Bockelman. 

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