Battle continues over LGBT protection in Missouri's Human Rights Act

Nov 27, 2012

The current human rights act in Missouri says, to discriminate against any person because of “race, color, religion, national origin, ancestry, sex, disability, or familial status” is illegal, but it doesn’t cover gender identity and sexual orientation. It’s not just in Missouri, right now 29 states have no protections for sexual orientation and 34 have no discrimination protections for transgender individuals.

Aaron Malin is the co-founder of Missourians for Equality, an organization that is attempting to take the issue of employment and housing discrimination of LGBT members to a ballot in 2014. The proposal would be an amendment to the current legal definition of discrimination in Missouri.

“(We) saw the Missouri legislature move more the right than they ever have in this election, we saw the Missouri populace move a little bit towards the left on this particular social issue so we see a window here with the ballot process,” Mailn said.

Currently the proposal is still waiting for approval by the Secretary of State’s office before the organization can start gathering signatures to put it on the ballot. If approved, Malin says the first part of the campaign will be focused on educating voters on the issue. Malin did a poll in June where he asked Missourians if they support gay marriage or civil unions. 64% of people said they would support one of the two and he extrapolates those who support that issue will also support employment and housing discrimination protections for the LGBT community.

Although this is the first time anyone has tried to bring this issue to the ballot this is not a new topic. KBIA’s Alexandra Olgin tells us how this has been in the works for over a decade.

Elizabeth William-Hodges a LGBT lawyer in Kansas City sums it up this way.

“An employer can say to your face you're gay and I'm firing you and there is nothing you can do about it,” Hodges said.

AJ Bockleman is the executive director of PROMO, an LGBT advocacy group in Missouri that’s been working to get employment and housing protections for the community since 2000. Bockleman says people are surprised it isn’t already in law. PROMO has been working with the state house representatives to get the bill passed.

The most recent sponsor of the bill is Representative Stephen Webber.

“To me it’s the easiest thing in the world to do. I mean there are a lot of things There are a lot of problems that we have that are difficult you know, fixing education is difficult, fixing the economy can be difficult but just saying we are not going to hate you for you are because you are human being when it doesn’t affect anybody else it’s pretty easy,” Webber said.

William-Hodges says she sees a lot of people who feel they are victims of this kind of discrimination.

“You know, I would guess it’s one or two a week and I have to stop them at the door and break the bad news that there is not a claim for them to pursue,” William-Hodges said.

This is a issue that Kylar Broadus knows all too well. He believes he was discriminated against because he is a transgender man. After leaving his job at a law firm in St. Louis he hasn’t been able to other work, so now he works out of his house as a general practitioner and does some advocacy work. His only colleague is his assistant. 

“And I think it’s just a lack of understanding. Right wrong it hurt me very badly scarred me economically. I am just starting to get back and you still never recover when you have been unemployed,” Broadus said.

Broadus believes he was forced out of his job because of his gender identity.

“It was a constructive discharge, which means they make your life hell. They don’t really fire you but to the extent you wish you were fired you just can’t take it anymore,” Broadus said.

Broadus says he was accused of having an affair with his supervisor, and accused of making racial slurs, repeatedly called in the middle of the night to produce projects by the next morning. He says none of these things happened until he publicly announced his transition.

“I have still out in my garage my reviews, my job and mind you and not a bad one there and all are exemplary. Which I kept because I went through a period of hell after this because I thought what’s wrong with me because I identified totally with my work,” Broadus said.

The Williams Institute compiled information from studies conducted over the past 15 years about gender identity and sexual orientation workplace discrimination. Cue to the difficulty of gathering reliable data on this population, the information was mostly gathered through surveys or formal legal complaints in large metro areas such as Los Angeles County, San Francisco and D.C. In these samples, 60% of transgender respondents reported being unemployed, and of those that did have a job, almost 2/3 reported making less than $25,000.

Broadus says he doesn’t think he’ll find any relief in the near future. He attempted to file a discrimination case under a different category he couldn’t even find a lawyer.

“I filed under title 7 civil rights act of 1963. Under sex stereotyping that I didn’t meet their expectations of what a woman should look like or be like. The courts threw it out,” Broadus said.

Representative Webber believes the process of changing the law is slow but steady. Since the bill has been introduced 12 years ago, the opposition is shrinking.

“Most importantly I think, every year there are a few more people who support it. And the people that are against it are quieter. And that is how I know we are going to win. We had a vote two years ago and not a single person spoke against the bill,” Webber said.

KBIA contacted more than 15 legislators who opposed the measure or others like it in the past, as well as three lobbying organizations, but no one agreed to a taped interview for this story. One legislator did give two reasons for his position. He said he believes the current protected classes protected by law are things that people cannot control, and he believes gender identity and sexual orientation are a choice. The other reason he opposes the legislation is he believes it could be a slippery slope. He says once the legislature starts adding protected categories, where do they draw the line?

Representative Webber says the opposition is not as vocal as it used to be.

“8 or 10 years ago they were trying to bring these issues up because they were good voter turnout mechanisms for them,” Webber said.

Broadus agrees with Webber that the opposition is running from the issue..literally...

“I ran into legislators that run! I’ll introduce myself and they are fine to talk to me and then I say o by the way I am a transgender man and they have actually ran from me. They say they don’t want to hear it, or their staff blocks the road so you can’t even get into talk to the member,” Broadus said.

Broadus has been a vocal advocate for the LGBT employment rights at the state and federal level. In fact this past June he testified in front of the US Congress in support of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.

“There is no federal protection, which is definitely why we need state protection. If you believe in state’s rights Missouri should step up to the plate and protect all of its citizens,” Broadus said.

Since there is not much movement on a state level, PROMO has gone through cities. Currently, 11 cities in Missouri have protections for employment and housing for sexual orientation and gender identity. Broadus supports these ordinances but a also says sometimes they aren’t much of a deterrent because they only fine the company 500 dollars. He says they are symbolic, he remembers how he felt when the city ordinance in Columbia was passed.

“It also serves to make people feel like they deserve to be protected. Cause I can tell you I bawled like a baby, it takes a lot to make me cry. But I couldn’t believe, when they approved it, the tears streamed from eyes and I thought, ‘What am I  feeling? Someone says it’s OK for me not to be discriminated against.’ That was just amazing to me,” Broadus said.

In the recent election the Republicans have gained a veto proof majority in both the state house and the state senate. Webber said the majority of the opponents of the bill are Republican. If this remains a partisan issue than the next two years will be an uphill battle on this issue in the legislature.