In 1994 the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund announced with great fanfare that their recommended candidate, Tim Van Zandt had become Missouri’s first openly gay elected official. The Kansas City resident had won the 38th District seat in the Missouri House of Representatives and would serve with distinction until term limited out in 2002.
Since then three more out and proud legislators have been elected to the Missouri General Assembly where the trio presently comprises the LGBT Caucus in Jefferson City: Rep. Jeanette Mott Oxford (D-59-St. Louis) was elected in 2004 and is the Dean of the Caucus; Rep. Mike Colona (D-67-St. Louis) was elected in 2008 and serves as House Minority Whip; and Sen. Jolie Justus (D-10-Kansas City) was elected in 2006 and is the first openly LGBT state senator.
84 openly LGBT legislators are presently serving in state capitols across the country in 2011. Whether it’s fulfilling constituent service or championing pro-equality legislation, the Missouri LGBT Caucus makes a difference simply by showing up to work each day.
“It is so easy for someone to make broad generalizations and stereotypes about our community when you don’t know someone who is LGBT,” said A.J. Bockelman, Executive Director of PROMO, Missouri’s statewide LGBT advocacy organization. “We saw that back in 2004 when the marriage ban made its way through the legislature and there were no out elected officials. Working side by side and across the aisle in Jefferson City, these three legislators have repeatedly broken down stereotypes and put a strong, positive face to our community that is not as readily demonized.”
With those two little words Pamela Merritt (Shark Fu) invites readers to devour the latest helping of “bitchitude” on subjects ranging from LGBT equality and feminism to race. Merritt’s irreverent and insightful rants as the “Angry Black Bitch” have been entertaining and enlightening readers for the past six years and in 2008 the online sensation was selected by the Guardian UK as one of the world’s 50 most powerful blogs.
A prolific and prophetic scribe, Merritt is a staff writer for RH Reality Check, a contributor to the Shakespeare’s Sister blog, a contributor to Feministing.com, and a featured contributor on National Public Radio’s “Tell Me More” with Michel Martin. Her work has been published in the Chicago Sun-Times, Salon.com, and featured in Salon.com’s Broadsheet.
Merritt is an active mainstay in the St. Louis LGBT and progressive community having served as the PAC Chair for PROMO. She has been active with Black PRIDE, is a mentor through Big Sisters and teaches various classes at several shelters in St. Louis. Merritt is a former Vital VOICE staffer and presently serves on the board of SAGE. She has served as the Statewide E-Organizer with Planned Parenthood affiliates in Missouri since 2008.
ROBYN CAROLYN MONTAGUE
Robyn Carolyn Montague has worn many hats (and still does). A retired Aerospace Engineer, she spent 30-years at McDonnell-Douglas/Boeing charged with myriad duties ranging from electronic and software design to the test of high performance tactical aircraft.
While still employed, Robyn came out in support of the St Louis LGBT Community as a volunteer for Pride St Louis in 2002, eventually becoming Director of Operations and finally Vice-President in 2006.
All of this was “a previous life” for in late 2006 she took full, early retirement from Boeing and soon after resigned from her position with Pride St Louis to begin a sabbatical. It was at this time she began her transition and her advocacy for the transgender community was born.
An unapologetic trans activist, Robyn also dedicates her time advocating for the greater LGBT tribe as seen by her near omnipresence within the community. She is the co-founder and Chairperson of TransHaven (founded in 2009)—an all-volunteer organization dedicated to ensuring Access, Safety and Respect in all aspects for the transgender community of Missouri and surrounding regional areas.
Known for her singular wit and prolific Facebook posts, Robyn enjoys a following as a national trans* community advocate and activist. She is a former Board member of the LGBT Community Center of Metropolitan St. Louis and a tireless advocate for Anti-Violence issues, the LGBT Homeless and shelters. Robyn is a frequent speaker at public schools, universities, organizations and LGBT-related events—she is married to Carl Gustavsen and lives in St Charles County.
Sherrill Wayland embraced her lesbianism during the turbulent “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” era of the Clinton administration. She lived a comfortable, quiet and closeted life—ever willing to let others fight for her rights—that is until November 3, 2004.
For it was bearing witness to anti-equality Marriage Amendments passing by stunning margins in 13- states that proved the catalyst in awakening one of St. Louis’ most respected LGBT advocates.
The MSW with 12-years in the fields of disability advocacy and education quickly became involved in queer equality issues, PROMO and was a founding member and secretary of the Gateway Stonewall Democrats. (The latter led to her desire to use her professional advocacy skills within the LGBT community.)
It was while earning her Masters in Social Work at Washington University in St. Louis that Sherrill first researched LGBT aging issues and started the St. Louis LGBT Aging Task Force. Upon graduation, she became the Founder and Executive Director of SAGE Metro St. Louis (Services & Advocacy for GLBT Elders) and co-authored the article, “Older Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual Adults: Tools for Age-Competent and Gay Affirmative Practice” which was published in the Journal of Gay and Lesbian Social Service. Sherrill resides in St. Louis with her partner of 16-years, Kim Kopff.
Segueing from his successful career in the private sector to a life of public service, Lewis Reed was elected to the St. Louis Board of Aldermen and then President of the legislative body on April 3, 2007. He is the first African American in St. Louis history elected to this position.
Reed has championed many causes including founding Bike St. Louis and the rebirth of Washington Avenue. He is responsible for passing legislation addressing environmental sustainability, crime prevention in youth and neighborhood development. He is also a tireless champion of LGBT equality and an early advocate of same sex marriage and has spoken publicly of his position many times.
“The City of St. Louis is fortunate to have a very strong and active LGBT community,” he explains. “Without such a community, it is unlikely that many areas of our City would have seen the redevelopment and investment that has lead to our current vibrancy.”
Reed has received many awards including: St. Louis Magazine, Cool 13; Gateway Classic, Citizen of the Year 2008; Alive Magazine, Men of Style 2009; St. Louis Argus, 2007 Distinguished Citizen; St. Louis Port Council, Able Helmsman Award; 2008 Martin Luther King Jr. Conference, Man of the Year; Cardinal Glennon Hospital, Champion for Children; St. Louis Business Journal, 2009 Inclusive Leadership and many others.
“My core belief and something that makes our country great is the role that equality plays for all in the fabric of our nation,” Reed concluded. “Equality for all does not and never should exclude members of the of LGBT community. Our City, and furthermore our nation, only thrives through a diverse community that embraces and celebrates differences. We must tear down old walls and mindsets and be vocal and active in support of our LGBT brothers and sisters.”
BY: COLIN MURPHY – SENIOR WRITER