Guest Commentary

I’m a gay Missouri lawmaker. My House colleagues voted no on equality for me

2016 Associated Press file photo

I am a Missourian. I was raised on a cotton farm in the Missouri Bootheel. I am a graduate of the University of Missouri. I have lived my entire adult life in Kansas City. I am a member of the state House of Representatives, representing the people of the Plaza, Brookside, Waldo and south Kansas City. I am also a Missourian who just happens to be gay.

Currently our internal House staff is legally protected by law from discrimination based on race, color, religion, national origin, ancestry, age, sex, disability or familial status. Notably absent from that list are people like me. Numerous Missourians are employed by the House. If they show up, work hard and do a good job, it only seems reasonable that they should not have to fear losing their jobs simply because of who they are.

This month I offered a simple amendment to our internal rules — an amendment that offered protection from discrimination for our LGBT employees. One would think an amendment in 2019 that simply says we won’t fire staff members because they’re LGBT wouldn’t be difficult to pass. One would think.

Entering my third year in the House, I have had the opportunity to work on many issues, most notably as a member of the budget, transportation and higher education committees. However, I am likely most known for being one of the lead sponsors of MONA, the Missouri Non-Discrimination Act. This bill, which would add LGBT Missourians to the state’s human rights statute, adds protections from discrimination in housing, employment and public accommodations. It has been introduced every year for 21 consecutive years.

And in each of those 21 years, a bill that says you cannot evict people from their homes, fire them from their jobs or deny them a meal at a restaurant simply for being LGBT has failed to pass the General Assembly. In fact, it has only passed out of a House committee twice. In 2006 it was voted out of the Senate when, on the last day of session, then-Senator and current Kansas City Councilwoman Jolie Justus was able to push it through.

Unfortunately, leadership in the House refused even to debate the bill. This will be my third year of being its lead sponsor, along with Rep. Tom Hannegan, a St. Charles Republican.

The amendment that I offered at the beginning of this session wasn’t as expansive as MONA. It would have given protection only to our own House employees, which seems like a good place to start.

At virtually the same moment that newly-elected Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly was signing an executive order protecting LGBT Kansans, the majority of Missouri’s House of Representatives resoundingly voted no to do the same for the men and women who work for us.

I am proud that the entire Democratic caucus of the House voted in favor of this amendment. I am also proud that many within the Republican caucus broke ranks with their leadership and voted for this commonsense proposal, including Rep. Mike Stephens of Bolivar, who spoke out eloquently in support.

However, the amendment was defeated. The majority of my colleagues voted to retain the right to fire Missourians who work for them simply because they are LGBT like me. That in and of itself is proof that our employees need this protection.

When a House member cites his religious liberty as a reason for retaining the right to fire someone, that is proof that our employees need this protection. When a House member has been supported on Twitter by the Westboro Baptist Church, that is proof that our employees need this protection. And when House Republican leaders ensure that the majority of their caucus will vote no to this amendment, that is proof that our employees need this protection.

Democrat Greg Razer represents the 25th District in the Missouri House of Representatives.

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