That quick social media burst gives heft to those claims, but does not allow for a thoughtful examination of the conflicting claims on both sides. Instead, it often dies with the inevitable lifecycle of social media, and everyone moves on. As a result, formal reporting of allegations of discrimination is often times low, and in too many cases, the report doesn’t happen at all.
As individuals, we have all likely experienced some interaction where we were left wondering what exactly is at play. Would a man and a woman together in the same circumstances be treated the same way? Did I just hear the cashier use the wrong pronoun, and was it intentional? Many of us have experienced this at some point in time. For others, that first case of discrimination comes after years of being in a relationship—feeling comfortable and at home, reasonably feeling that you’ve been accepted and respected, even celebrated—until you go to make out a will or otherwise make sure your partner is protected should something happen to you. Then it hits home—that feeling that you are unwelcome. You are treated like an outsider to some exclusive club.
So while many of us have experienced it, why don’t we report it more often? Research from GLSEN in 2009 reveals 9 out of 10 LGBT youth experience verbal harassment, but 63% of those students never report it to teachers or administrators. Historically under-served populations like the LGBT community feel that, even when they feel justified in lodging a complaint, there could be repercussions for raising our voice or worse, retribution. In 2009, Attorney General Chris Koster agreed to begin collecting reports of discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, yet to date, very few people have filed a report. Admittedly, there are the downsides to reporting—without a law to cover these basic protections, there is little the Attorney General’s office can do; the reports are part of a public record, so it is difficult to keep things anonymous; and sadly sometimes the victims of discrimination internalize the issue and blame themselves.
In 2009, the Williams Institute released a report [http://wiwp.law.ucla.edu/wp-content/uploads/12_SpecificExamples.pdf] detailing employment discrimination cases on a state by state basis. In short, the report indicated that over the years, few cases have been filed. In fact, part of the challenge in pushing the Employment Nondiscrimination Act (ENDA) forward has been the lack of reporting and subsequent case history of employment discrimination. We all know it happens, but there have been very few cases which have moved forward through the court system. It wasn’t until 2008 that a case involving a transgender woman, who was dismissed from the Library of Congress, won at the US District Court level. It is a significant case, but without other legal precedents, it makes proving our case for employment protections more challenging.
So what can we do to change that dynamic? If you believe you have been in this kind of situation, report it. There are a number of ways to lodge a complaint:
*If you reside in the City of Saint Louis, Kansas City, Columbia, University City, or Olivette, contact your City Hall to find out where to file a complaint with your respective city.
*If your complaint has to do with housing – rental or sale, contact the Equal Housing Opportunity Council at 800-555-3951.
*The ACLU can assist with determining if you have a legal case – contact the ACLU’s hotline – for Eastern Missouri call 314-652-3111; for Western Missouri, call 816-756-3113.
*File a complaint with the Attorney General’s office – 573-751-3321. While the office of AG cannot actively work on the complaint, creating a history of the complaint may give you future recourse should additional actions be taken. It also helps create a database of discrimination claims in Missouri.
*If the discrimination includes any level of violence, contact the LGBT anti-violence organizations – for Eastern Missouri, call ALIVE at 314-993-2777; for Western Missouri, call KCAVP at 816-561-0550;
*Contact PROMO – In Saint Louis, 314-862-4900; Kansas City, 816-931-2300; Springfield, 417-291-6569. PROMO will assist with connecting you with resources where possible.
Of course, I’m not saying that we are constantly under siege, but those of us who are LGBT have been sensitized over the years to be aware of possible discrimination. But that is another aspect of what makes determining discrimination cases so difficult. I know what I heard, but was it just an honest mistake? This business has always been friendly—what changed? Was it the action of just one individual? There are a lot of questions that need to be asked but that can only happen if we are willing to report incidents and problems as they arise. This is the only way we can have honest discussions and not let equality disappear into the ether of yesterday’s angry Facebook update.
BY: A.J. BOCKELMAN