BY COLIN LOVETT -
Over 150 members of PROMO, Missouri's statewide lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) advocacy group traveled to Jefferson City, Feb. 15 to lobby their legislators.
The primary focus of the annual Equality Day is to let elected officials know that their constituents support LGBT rights and want to see legislators make decisions that support the rights of all Missourians.
The two bills focused on this year were the Missouri Safe Schools Legislation [HB 460 & SB 240] and the perennial Missouri Non-Discrimination Act (MONA) [HB 477 & SB 239].
The Missouri Nondiscrimination Act would extend the existing Missouri Human Rights Statute to include lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and straight people. The current law prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, ancestry, sex, and age as it relates to employment, housing and public accommodation. The proposed legislation would add to the list a prohibition against discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Missouri would be the 19th state to pass a bill protecting LGBT people; similar laws currently exist in Wisconsin, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Hawaii, California, New Jersey, Vermont, Minnesota, New Hampshire, Nevada, Rhode Island, Maryland, New York, New Mexico, the District of Columbia (by court decision), Maine, Iowa, Illinois and Washington. Seven of these states (Wisconsin, Massachusetts, Maryland, Connecticut, New York, New Hampshire and Nevada) only protect against discrimination based on sexual orientation and do NOT include gender identity.
The Missouri Safe Schools Legislation would protect Missouri students from bullying and discrimination based on actual or perceived characteristics such as race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, personal appearance, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or a mental, physical or sensory disability, or on the basis of association with others identified by these categories. It also requires training for educators in order to equip them with the skills to handle bullying effectively in the classroom. Missouri would be the 15th state to pass similar legislation. States with laws already in effect are California, Maine, Vermont, Colorado, Minnesota, Washington, Illinois, New Jersey, the District of Columbia, Iowa, Oregon, Connecticut, Massachusetts and Wisconsin. Connecticut, Massachusetts and Wisconsin only have protection against discrimination based on sexual orientation and do NOT include gender identity or the perceived status language.
After brief introductions and empowering speeches given by PROMO staff and pro-LGBT legislators including out gay and lesbian politicos Rep. Mike Colona, Rep. Jeanette Mott-Oxford and Sen. Jolie Justice as well as Rep. Stephen Webber, Rep. Stacey Newman and Rep. Sara Lampe, Equality Day attendees were divided into small groups to target individual senators and representatives.
“… [W]e heard incredible stories of empowerment,” says A.J. Bockelman, Executive Director of PROMO. “PROMO supporters told us of the wonderful hospitality they enjoyed from their legislators, and how, even when elected officials disagreed with them, our people felt that they had made inroads with both veteran and freshman legislators, that they had put a face on who we are as a community."
"In fact, in these meetings a number of elected officials disclosed that they have someone close to them who recently came out, and we signed up new bill sponsors," Bockelman continued. "It’s this ‘Hearts and Minds’ strategy that is at the core of PROMO Lobby Day – this courageous expression by everyday Missourians of why equality is important for EVERY citizen of the state – that makes me certain that equality will become law in the state of Missouri and will happen sooner rather than later."
For more information about PROMO and LGBT legislation, visit www.PromoOnline.org