CLAYTON, Mo. – The St. Louis County Council chamber was filled to capacity on Tuesday as council members voted and passed an ordinance that would include sexual orientation and gender identity in St. Louis County’s non-discrimination protections in unincorporated St. Louis County.
Opponents of the bill greatly outnumbered pro-equality supporters, but council members voted 4-3 to pass Bill 279, affecting over 321,000 residents.
“This is about protecting individuals who live in St. Louis County,” said council member Pat Dolan. “It doesn’t matter what walk of life you come from, what matters is that all citizens regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity are protected from discrimination.”
Over 90 speakers stepped up to the podium to address the council prior to the vote. A vast majority stood in opposition to the bill, referencing scripture, calling sexual orientation and gender identity a choice, and even likening LGBT people to alcoholics, pedophiles and practitioners of bestiality.
But there were a cadre of supporters of LGBT equality in attendance well. St. Louis Gender Foundation president and Boeing senior project engeneer, Michelle Smith shared that while her company supported her transition, she knows many employees in companies both large and small afraid to be themselves.
In most parts of Missouri and several municipalities in St. Louis County, LGBT citizens are not protected from discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations because of their sexual orientation and gender identity. In Missouri alone, one in seven LGBT Missourians have reported experiencing discrimination in the workplace.
“My vote stands for the proposition that employment, housing and public accommodations decisions should be based on a person’s qualifications, not sexual orientation or gender identity. History shows us that inclusive communities are successful communities where all citizens can share in economic opportunities and where all citizens have the opportunity to reciprocate,” said council member Steve Stenger.
“Tonight’s vote by the St. Louis County Council is a recognition of all the hardworking lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender citizens of St. Louis County,” offered A.J. Bockelman, Executive Director for PROMO, Missouri’s LGBT advocacy organization.
“Since this issue failed in 2007, PROMO has been actively working to educate St. Louis County citizens and has seen seven local municipalities pass similar ordinances. We know that the LGBT community has always been a part of this region’s growing economic diversity, and we are thankful that the County Council has chosen this evening to protect all of its citizens regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity,” he said.