Mike Parson is still adjusting to seeing the title “governor” next to his name.
He ascends to Missouri’s highest office with a fair amount of goodwill and no doubt will be granted a grace period of sorts. With one exception: When it comes to human rights and civil rights, there is no space for waffling or for easing into the job.
In his public role, Parson must be a leader for all Missourians, willing to fight for the rights of everyone in our state.
But a January 2017 interview he gave to the Baptist magazine Word&Way is raising concerns about whether Parson will stand up for LGBT people. Parson, a conservative Baptist himself, addressed what he termed the difficulty of “the homosexual issue,” saying that “this sort of activity” is wrong.
“I’m old-school,” Parson is quoted as saying. “I know how I believe, I know what’s going to happen to these people.”
Governor, “these people” are Missourians. The state doesn’t differentiate between someone’s version of sinners and saints when it collects taxes. We all pay. And we all deserve the same basic protections.
Parson, who had recently become lieutenant governor when he gave the interview, also discussed a scenario where an employer found out that a member of the workforce is gay. What to do? Fire the person?
He noted how uncomfortable the hypothetical boss might be if he or she decided to stand up for the gay employee.
“All of a sudden, people turn on you pretty quick and say, ‘Oh, so you support them,’” Parson said. “No, I never said that at all — and I don’t support them.”
Imagine being that gay person, Governor.
Parson said that ultimately, he didn’t think that it would be right to fire someone for being gay.
Good, because in Missouri, it’s still legal to do so. In fact, it’s legal to decline to rent housing to someone, to kick them out of a restaurant, to deny people all kinds of rights even if you just perceive that they might be gay or transgender.
As a state senator, Parson opposed legislation that would make such discrimination illegal. Would he veto that measure as governor?
Parson’s office did not respond to a request for comment.
June is LGBT Pride Month, a perfect opportunity for our new governor to get out of his comfort zone and meet a diverse cross-section of Missourians. Learn about the impact intolerance has had on their lives and how frequently they still face discrimination.
Everyone has the right to believe what they want about sexual orientation based on their faith. But as a public servant, Parson must treat all Missourians equally and ensure that the state’s laws do the same.
Parson’s magazine interview concludes with him outlining the type of statesman he’d like to be: one willing to stand up and say that some things are wrong. He wants people to say, “old Parson did it a different way.”
You could be that champion for LGBT people in our state, Governor.