The Missouri Influencer Series

Shielding LGBTQ people from discrimination: What stands in the way?

Larry W. Smith

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Missouri Influencer Series

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It’s been a little more than three years since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of same-sex marriage, and the debate over LGBTQ rights in Missouri is ongoing. 

The Star’s readers wanted to know: Should Missouri state law protect LGBTQ people from discrimination at work, in housing decisions and at private businesses?

Plus, we asked: What do you think the biggest barrier is in Missouri to extending such protections?

Here’s how members of the Star’s Missouri Influencer panel answered those questions. Most favored protections for LGBTQ people.

Kay Barnes, former mayor of Kansas City, senior director for university engagement at Park University: “Yes.”

The barrier: Lack of understanding and thus discrimination against members of the LGBT community.

Michael Barrett, Missouri State Public Defender director: “Rationale for denying someone a basic need, whether it be a home, a job, or health care should be based on criteria that can be applied across the board and does not target classes of persons. Quite simply, it should not be legal to deprive someone of such a need based on the way they look, worship, or love.”

The barrier: “fear of excessive lawsuits.”

Brenda Bethman, director of UMKC Women’s Center: “Yes, there needs to be state-level (ideally federal) protections in place — otherwise LGBTQ people will continue to face legal discrimination.”

The barrier: Anti-LGBTQ prejudice is the biggest barrier.

Mark Bryant, attorney and former Kansas City Council member: “It is unfortunate but Missouri law needs to protect LGBTQ people at work, in housing decisions and at private businesses. Otherwise, LGBTQ people will be subject to the same types of discrimination that persons of African-American, Mexican and foreign national descent suffer. The United States is great because it absorbs different people from different places and blends culture(s) into something new. LGBTQ people are talented and innovative. We should prohibit discrimination based on gender identity or sexual orientation.”

The barrier: “Survey polls do not indicate broad support in Missouri for laws which prohibit discrimination based on gender identity or sexual orientation.”

Mike Burke, attorney and former Kansas City Council member: “The short answer is yes. Missouri needs to enter the 21st Century in its laws on discrimination. A nondiscrimination law on a statewide level would send a message nationally that we are a tolerant society. Our cities have already taken a lead on nondiscrimination but without state legislation we are behind the times.”

The barrier: “We have too many legislators who feel they need to play to the lowest denominator in their base rather than the population as a whole.”

Thomas Curran, president of Rockhurst University: “The promotion of human dignity and the pursuit of the common good compels us to have laws in the state of Missouri that protect all people from discrimination at work, in matters of housing and in private business. When this is not the practice, we need to create laws that specifically protect any and all groups who have experienced discrimination in these matters.”

The barrier: “Tragically, we come across circumstances and situations where the promotion and preservation of human dignity has not been practiced because it’s not believed that we are all created equal.”

Jack Danforth, former U.S. senator:I think that people should be protected from discrimination based on sexual orientation, except I think that the law should allow for businesses and organizations to practice their religious beliefs when their religion does not recognize same-sex marriage.”

The barrier: “Until very recently, most people had never heard of same-sex marriage, and could not imagine that it could exist. This has changed dramatically over a very few years as more and more people, especially young people, take same sex marriage for granted. As the years pass, there will be increasingly less opposition to it.”

Reza Derakhshani, UMKC associate professor of computer science and electrical engineering: “Yes.”

The barrier: “Bitter and and emotionally charged partisan rivalries, catering to unfounded fears rather than evidence-based research.”

Jane Dueker, lawyer, radio host and former political adviser: “Absolutely.”

The barrier: “I think there are religious objections from lawmakers. Some business groups object citing the creation of new lawsuits. Similar to gay marriage, I think the legislature will punt and force the courts to do the right thing and then say ‘it is settled.’”

Gwen Grant, Urban League of Greater Kansas City: “Yes. These people should be added as a protected class in Missouri law, which should include language specific to sexual orientation and gender identity.”

The barrier: “We’re a conservative state and the legislature reflects it.”

Jason Grill, media, public affairs and crisis communications consultant:No individual should face discrimination at work or in their job in any case no matter race, creed, religion or sexual orientation.”

The barrier: “Current political makeup and numbers in the Missouri General Assembly, as well as some viewpoints that private businesses can do what they choose and should not be regulated in this manner by the government.”

John Hancock, former chairman of Missouri Republican Party: Nobody should be for discrimination.”

The barrier: “Two potential hurdles: One is the need to respect religious conscience. The second is a reluctance to increase the amount of litigation.”

Deb Hermann, CEO of Northland Neighborhoods, Inc.: “Yes.”

The barrier: “The House passed HB2100 last session — a good step. However, I am unsure of the governor’s action on this legislation. It needs to be approved. Ignorance inflamed by political rhetoric causes great damage to this cause.”

Bob Holden, former governor: “Yes. If we want to achieve our best economic and social status we must become more inclusive.”

The barrier: “Lack of understanding and in some cases awareness.”

Sly James, mayor of Kansas City: “Missouri law should protect all people from discrimination and in the decisions and circumstances that affect their lives. Neither the Bill of Rights, nor the Constitution of either the United States or the State of Missouri include the phrase ‘unless you are gay’ in the texts. Our history should be enough to remind us that discrimination comes to no good end.”

The barrier: “Political ideologies that pander to a group of citizens who, for religious or other reasons, do not see the LGBTQ community as complete and equal humans. The ideologies tend to view this segment of the electorate as a voting block to be pursued and won.”

Jolie Justus, Kansas City councilwoman: “Yes.”

The barrier: “Leadership in the Missouri House and Senate and the Missouri Chamber of Commerce”

Gregg Keller, principal of Atlas Strategy Group: “This is a worthwhile discussion to have as soon as, but not before, the political left settles upon a definition of gender identity that goes beyond how a given individual feels they ‘identify’ on any given day.”

The barrier: “The political left coming up with a coherent definition of the terms involved.”

Crosby Kemper III, director of the Kansas City Public Library, co-founder of the Show-Me Institute: “As an employer in more than one field in my career, I have always been interested in hiring the best people regardless of what goes on in their private lives (if legal and not disturbing to the institutions’ customers or colleagues). I would resist adding special classes of protection beyond all the already powerful anti-discrimination laws. That said I’m open to evidence that such discrimination is a serious problem which needs legal redress.”

The barrier: “See above.”

Jennifer Lowry, chief toxicologist at Children’s Mercy Hospital: “Absolutely! It is unfathomable to me that in 2018 we continue to have this conversation. All people deserve to work. All people deserve to have a home. All people deserve to walk into a business and be treated the same as any other person. Sex and gender of an individual is not a public discussion. It is personal to that individual and should not be judged by others. Those businesses who have employment opportunities should hire a person based on their ability to perform the job. Those who have housing to rent or sell should be proud that any person wants to live in that home. Those who have businesses that want to make a living should be happy to sell their product to those who want to enter their establishment. If we agree that sex and gender are protected, then so should the community that wears it proudly.”

The barrier: “The largest barrier to extending protections to the LGBTQ community are those who use religion to justify actions against those that make them uncomfortable. However, our constitution requires the separation of church and state and, thus, religion cannot be used as a basis for establishing law. Most importantly, however, most religious teachings, if the constitution allowed it to be considered, would promote kindness and love over hate and fear.”

Quinton Lucas, Kansas City Council member:It’s unconscionable that Missouri law does not already protect LGBTQ persons from discrimination at work, in housing, and in private business. We should join the rest of the country and give our citizens all rights.”

The barrier: “Bigotry remains our biggest barrier to extending rights to all persons.”

Dianne Lynch, president of Stephens College: “Missouri needs the most talented, innovative and committed workforce it can attract and retain if it’s going to be competitive. That means it needs to be as inclusive and respectful of individual and privacy rights as the markets with which it is competing for talent. This isn’t a personal values question; it’s a business decision. So the answer in the best interests of all Missourians is: Yes. Absolutely. Without a doubt.”

The barrier: “There’s a blurring of the lines between personal values and beliefs, and economic analyses about what is likely to best serve all Missourians. Our leaders can respect the personal beliefs of all constituents and still support legislation that expands the state’s talent pool, markets and partnerships with those who don’t share those beliefs.”

Christopher Maples, interim chancellor of the Missouri University of Science & Technology: “Missouri state law should protect LGBTQ people from discrimination at work, in housing decisions, and at private businesses.”

The barrier: “The biggest barrier to Missouri extending protections to LGBTQ people may be the reticence of elected officials to introduce legislation that may be viewed as being in opposition to religious views held by some of their constituents.”

Richard Martin, director of governmental affairs at JE Dunn Construction: “If there is not current law that protects the LGBTQ community from discrimination in housing, employment and their freedom to pursue economic opportunities without obstacles based on their sexual identity. Then yes.”

The barrier: “Perhaps it’s in the state’s DNA to be more like a follower than a leader on progressive social issues.”

Jay Nixon, former governor:Absolutely. Our state must lead on vital civil rights issues, and be a welcoming place to work and live.”

The barrier: “The major business interests and groups must prioritize this as ‘workforce’ development.”

Ken Novak, UMKC professor of criminal justice and criminology: “State law should protect the LGBTQ community from discriminatory practices at work and other forums. LGBTQ is a protected class and citizens should expect the same legal protection from discriminatory behavior as gender, race, ethnicity, age, veteran status, etc. But beyond the legal implications — it’s just the right thing to do. That should be sufficient justification alone.”

The barrier: “Like many protected classes the LGBTQ community comprises a small portion of the population — clearly the minority. Legislators, as well as citizens, likely have less familiarity with people in this community or the unique barriers they face, and, as such, (don’t prioritize) safeguards to mitigate discriminatory practices. Protection may be triaged as a lower priority (if it is a priority at all).”

CiCi Rojas, partner and president of Tico Productions and Tico Sports: “In general, yes.”

The barrier: “Businesses or organizations who may have religious or bias that prohibit them.”

Leland Shurin, attorney, vice president Kansas City Board of Police Commissioners: “Absolutely. I am amazed, disappointed and angered that it would still be a question/issue in Missouri at this time.”

The barrier: “The use by so many politicians of unreasonable fear as a political wedge issue and the erroneous interpretation of religious principles.”

Ryan Silvey, Missouri Public Service commissioner, former state senator: Yes”

The barrier: “There is a philosophical concern by several in the legislature with creating additional protected classes for any reason.”

Jeff Simon, managing partner, Husch Blackwell: “Yes.”

The barrier: “A philosophical concern about over-regulation by government, combined with a lingering prejudice against gays among some.”

Phil Snowden, member of University of Missouri Board of Curators: Yes. Yes. We’re all people and all in this together. We should have equal rights.”

The barrier: “Sometimes movements take shape and the right course of action doesn’t evolve for years. This may not be the hottest issue to push in Missouri but the state is headed in the right direction.”

David Steelman, attorney, former state legislator, chairman of the University of Missouri Board of Curators: “Yes.”

The barrier: “All reasonable people should agree that discrimination is wrong and should be discouraged. However, the details of the remedy are always more important than is realized. It is important the legislation not be unduly restrictive of religious freedom or freedom of association.”

Maurice Watson, partner at Husch Blackwell law firm: Protections in Missouri are needed and overdue.”

The barrier: “There’s hope in the tolerant attitudes of younger people who are now of voting age.”

Pam Whiting, vice president for communications, Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce:Absolutely.”

The barrier: While attitudes and understanding continue to evolve, we still have a long way to go. SJR 39 came close to passage two years ago, but was narrowly defeated, which gives me hope, though similar bills have been introduced in the legislature the past two years. Thankfully, they didn’t go anywhere.

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