CLAYTON, MO – The St. Louis County Council chamber was filled to capacity, Nov. 27 as councilmembers voted and passed an ordinance that would include sexual orientation and gender identity in St. Louis County’s non-discrimination protections in unincorporated St. Louis County.
Opponents of the bill greatly outnumber pro-equality supporters, but a majority of St. Louis County Councilmember voted to pass Bill 279, affecting over 321,000 residents.
Democratic Councilmembers Kathleen Kelly Burkett, of Overland; Mike O’Mara, of Florissant; Pat Dolan, of Richmond Heights and Steve Stenger, of South County voted for the non-discrimination ordinance – the remaining Democrat, Hazel Erby, of University City joined Republicans Colleen Wassinger, of Town and Country and Greg Quinn, of Ballwin in voting against. The ordinance was co-sponsored by Councilman Dolan and Councilwoman Burkett.
“I’m so excited to see this finally on table with St. Louis County as a whole,” said Colin Lovett, president of The LGBT Center of St. Louis and former county resident. “One of the major reasons I moved out of Ballwin last October was because the city did not include LGBT people in its non-discrimination policies. I think once this is passed, St. Louis County’s leadership will inspire equality advances here at home, in the rest of Missouri and possibly farther than that. This is one step closer to making the county more welcoming for all people, especially the countless number of LGBT people living within its bounds.”
Councilman Pat Dolan said of the ordinance, “This is about protecting individuals who live in St. Louis County. It doesn’t matter what walk of life you come from, what matters is that all citizens regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity are protected from discrimination.”
Over 90 speakers stepped up to the podium to address the Council prior to the vote. A vast majority stood in opposition to the bill, referencing scripture, calling sexual orientation and gender identity a choice and even likening LGBT people to alcoholics, pedophiles and practitioners of bestiality.
But there were a cadre of supporters of LGBT equality in attendance well. St. Louis Gender Foundation president and Boeing senior project engeneer, Michelle Smith shared that while her company supported her transition, she knows many employees in companies both large and small afraid to be themselves. Alan Easton called on councilmembers to pass the bill to prevent discrimination against something that has nothing to do with an individual’s job performance. Sherrill Wayland, Executive Director of SAGE Metro St. Louis, said that LGBT seniors live in fear of a care system that doesn’t support them or their families. While Steph James told her story of transition and how she subsequently lost her job, house and has been unable to find work since coming out as transgender.
Unfortunately, in most parts of Missouri and several municipalities in St. Louis County, hardworking lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender citizens are not protected from discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations simply because of their sexual orientation and gender identity. Across the state, companies can and do legally fire people simply for their sexual orientation or gender identity - reasons that have nothing to do with their job performance. In Missouri alone, one in seven LGBT Missourians have reported experiencing discrimination in the workplace.
“My vote stands for the proposition that employment, housing and public accommodations decisions should be based on a person’s qualifications, not sexual orientation or gender identity. History shows us that inclusive communities are successful communities where all citizens can share in economic opportunities and where all citizens have the opportunity to reciprocate,” said Councilman Steve Stenger.
“Tonight’s vote by the St. Louis County Council is a recognition of all the hardworking lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender citizens of St. Louis County,” offered A.J. Bockelman, Executive Director for PROMO, Missouri’s LGBT advocacy organization. “Since this issue failed in 2007, PROMO has been actively working to educate St. Louis County citizens and has seen seven local municipalities pass similar ordinances. We know that the LGBT community has always been a part of this region’s growing economic diversity, and we are thankful that the County Council has chosen this evening to protect all of its citizens regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity.”
According to PROMO, while the room was filled with many vocal opponents, Bill 279 enjoyed strong direct support from groups like organized labor and North County black churches.
By COLIN MURPHY - EDITOR