A Better St. Louis. Powered by Journalism.
  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • Print
  • Email

St. Louis County Council extends anti-discrimination ordinances to gays

In Region

9:52 pm on Tue, 11.27.12

The St. Louis County Council has voted to include sexual orientation and gender identity in its anti-discrimination ordinances, a move supporters say provides a welcoming message to the gay community in the state’s largest county.

Still, the bill's passage came Tuesday after an overflow crowd spoke overwhelmingly — and at times passionately — against it.

Pat Dolan
Pat Dolan

Councilman Pat Dolan’s proposal is aimed at protecting individuals who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgendered (LGBT) from discrimination in housing, employment and public accommodations. The bill would add "sexual orientation" and "gender identity" to the county’s hate crime statutes and include those terms in anti-discrimination ordinances on contracting and county hiring.

Dolan's proposal would affect St. Louis County's unincorporated areas. If an entity runs afoul of these regulations, said St. Louis County deputy county counselor Bob Grant, they could be fined anywhere from $50 to $1,000.

"I think it's the right thing to do," said Dolan after the meeting. "I believe St. Louis County should be a leader and I'm glad the council... supported this. It's 2012, and I don't think there should be any discrimination in St. Louis County. And I'm glad that we could move on."

Councilman Pat Dolan talks to reporters after the vote.

The bill ended up passing 4-3. Four of the council's five Democrats — Dolan, Councilwoman Kathleen Burkett, D-Overland, Councilman Mike O'Mara, D-Florissant, and Steve Stenger, D-Affton — voted in favor.

"My vote stands for the proposition that employment, housing and public accommodation decisions should be based on a person's qualifications, not sexual orientation or gender identity," Stenger said. "I believe that history shows that inclusive communities are successful communities. These are communities where all citizens can share in economic opportunities and where all citizens have the opportunity to reciprocate."

The council’s two Republicans — Councilwoman Colleen Wasinger, R-Town and Country, and Councilman Greg Quinn, R-Ballwin — voted against the measure. Councilwoman Hazel Erby, D-University City, also voted no.

"I have concerns about the language, as well as the possible consequences of this ordinance," Erby said.

St. Louis County Executive Charlie Dooley, a Democrat, signaled earlier this year that he would sign a bill similar to Dolan’s measure.

Andrew Shaughnessy, a St. Louis-based organizer for PROMO — the region's primary LGBT advocacy group  — said before the vote that passage of the measure would show that St. Louis County is "warm and welcoming to the LGBT community," and that the county "needs us in order to make a diverse workforce happen."

Andrew Shaughnessy
Andrew Shaughnessy

"For St. Louis County to pass these protections, it's just going to show that there’s continued momentum that the LGBT community does deserve to protected and needs to be protected from discrimination," Shaughnessy said. "This is a problem that we're seeing throughout Missouri. And it is a problem that we'll continue to see. And this is what our fight is for our protections. It’s for simple, basic protections."

Overflow crowd exudes passion

Not everyone shared Shaughnessy's perspective. The vast majority of the 92 people signed up to speak during the nearly two-hour public forum urged council members to reject the proposal.

Many in the crowd expressed opposition to Dolan's bill on religious grounds. For instance, Theresa Douglas called Dolan's bill "an affront to Christianity."

Joann Raisch added, "Having taking upon yourself to pass such legislation, I further wondered if the 10 Commandments were also cancelled." 

"This piece of legislation will only feed the coffers of attorneys," Raisch said.

Charles Morgan urged the council not to "adulterate and contaminate a current, righteous law that currently protects the rights of all St. Louis County citizens" by adding sexual orientation and gender identity.

"There is a large population in St. Louis County whose faith is grounded in the love for humanity, that is rooted in more than four millennia of Judeo-Christian theology," said Morgan, a reverend. "While passage of Bill 279 will certainly satisify a very strong, vocal, politically saavy population in St. Louis County, I have no evidence that it reflects the will of the larger majority of the St. Louis County residents."

Surrogates for House Speaker Tim Jones, R-Eureka, and state Sen. Brian Nieves, R-Washington, read letters opposing Dolan's bill. Both letters said the ordinance could have negative consequences on St. Louis County businesses, a contention repeated by numerous opponents of the bill.

State Sen. Jim Lembke, R-Lemay, said that without an exception for "right of conscience," the proposed ordinance would run afoul of the Missouri Constitution.

State Sen. Jim Lembke, R-Lemay, speaks to the press after the St. Louis County Council passed the bill.

"It's clearly unconstitutional," said Lembke after the meeting. "When you weigh that there is no exception clause here for religious right of conscience and religious liberty, the Missouri constitution is clear. So I think anybody who lives in St. Louis County or a group of small business people might think that this is something that they want to get clarification through the court system."

Lembke added that he didn't know whether he would get involved in a legal challenge. He lost re-election this month to state Rep. Scott Sifton, an Affton Democrat who spoke out earlier this year in favor of a measure like Dolan's bill.

Opponents' passion on the issue spilled over to the vote. Burkett — a strong supporter of the Dolan's bill — was booed after describing some of opposition's arguments as "intolerance" and "bigotry."

And after O'Mara voted for the bill, somebody in the crowd shouted "not a Catholic."

While the vast majority of speakers opposed the proposals, supporters of Dolan's measure echoed Shaughnessy's contention that the ordinance would do much to help St. Louis County's LGBT residents feel at home.

"We have a choice before us: Do we make St. Louis County the next county in Missouri to fully support and recognize equality for all and not some?" said Sherrill Wayland, executive director of SAGE Metro St. Louis, a group representing older LGBT residents.

PROMO takes local focus

Several St. Louis County municipalities — including Clayton, Richmond Heights, Olivette and University City — have passed ordinances including LGBT individuals into anti-discrimination laws. Similar measures have also been passed in the city of St. Louis and Kansas City.

The local focus, Shaughnessy said, is necessary. He noted that the Missouri General Assembly consistently has failed to add sexual orientation and gender identity to state anti-discrimination statutes, a move that could provide LGBT legal standing to sue. A group is trying to get that issue before Missouri voters for the 2014 election cycle.

Because of the state's inaction, Shaughnessy said, advocates must look locally for legislative progress.

"We’ve working on this for the past 13 years. And we now are recognizing that communities are starting to stand up because Jefferson City is not," Shaughnessy said. "And so we’re starting to see local communities know their citizenry and know that LGBT citizens frequent their cities. And they know that they need protecting when others are in their city limits.

"Jefferson City continues to not hear our call for basic protections," he added. "And so, going from municipality to municipality, it's a wake-up call for Jefferson City that LGBT people live in Missouri, we help the economy. We are hard-working citizens that deserve to be protected."

No Comments

Join The Beacon

When you register with the Beacon, you can save your searches as news alerts, rsvp for events, manage your donations and receive news and updates from the Beacon team.

Register Now

Already a Member

Getting around the new site

Take a look at our tutorials to help you get the hang of the new site.

Most Discussed Articles By Beacon Members

Conference of American nuns will mull response to Vatican charges

In Nation

7:55 am on Fri, 08.03.12

Meeting in St. Louis next week, the Leadership Conference of Women Religious will have its first opportunity as an assembled group to consider what to do after the Vatican issued a mandate for change this spring. It calls on the conference to reorganize and more strictly observe church teachings.

The 'free' Zoo

In Commentary

7:51 am on Tue, 05.22.12

When a family of four goes to the St. Louis Zoo, they can be forgiven for not knowing it will cost them $60, $72 if they park. If they can't pay, the alternative is to tell the kids they can't do what kids do at the zoo.

Featured Articles

House sends Boeing incentive bill to Nixon

In Economy

12:55 pm on Fri, 12.06.13

The Missouri House easily passed legislation aimed at attracting production of the 777x, a move that wraps up a legislative special session that saw little suspense and few surprises. The bill now goes to Gov. Jay Nixon, who has strongly supported the legislation.

Gandhi inspired Mandela on South Africa's 'Long Road to Freedom'

In World

10:10 am on Fri, 12.06.13

Nelson Mandela, who died Thursday at the age of 95, was a towering moral figure of the 20th century -- along with Mahatma Gandhi. It was no coincidence that Gandhi and Mandela, whose paths never crossed directly, both embarked on their campaigns against discrimination in South Africa. It was when Mandela won election as South Africa’s first black president that Gandhi's influence became apparent.

Featured Articles

Regina Carter brings jazz and therapy to Children's Hospital

6:36 am on Mon, 12.09.13

One night, the violinist is taking bows before a standing ovation at Jazz at the Bistro. The next afternoon, some of her audience may have trouble standing, but the kids in the playroom at Children's Hospital were no less appreciative. “Jazz is medicine personified," according to a doctor who brings in the jazz musicians.

Encore: Dead before death

In Performing Arts

12:58 am on Fri, 12.06.13

For years , the author was certain he would never come to appreciate The Grateful Dead, let alone be a Deadhead. But little by little, he's come around. He talks about his conversion and relates a real evolution: by a musician who went on to play with the Schwag, a Dead cover band.

Featured Articles

Schlichter honored with St. Louis Award

In Region

4:57 pm on Tue, 12.03.13

The attorney has founded Arch Grants, which brings together nonprofit philanthropy and commercially viable opportunitiesto fund new business startups, and Mentor St. Louis, which finds adult mentors for elementary students in the St. Louis Public School System. He was the driving force behind the state's historic tax credit program.

BioGenerator sets open house to celebrate new digs for entrepreneurs-in-residence

In InnovationSTL

12:29 pm on Tue, 11.12.13

BioSTL's BioGenerator organization is on the move as its entrepreneurs-in-residence find a new home in 4,300 square feet of office and conference space in an old automobile factory. The blossoming program, which helps BioGenerator's portfolio companies to get off the ground, continues to pay dividends within the growing biotech community.

Ambassadors aim to soften rough landing for St. Louis immigrants

In InnovationSTL

6:34 am on Fri, 11.08.13

The St. Louis Mosaic Project is set to hold an orientation for its new ambassadors -- dozens of foreign and native-born volunteers who aim to help make the community a more welcoming place for those from other nations. Participants will be expected to do everything from visiting local restaurants serving international cuisine to having dinner with an immigrant to the area.

Recent Articles

More Articles

Innovation and entrepreneurial activity are on the rise in St. Louis, especially in bioscience, technology and alternative energy. The Beacon's InnovationSTL section focuses on the people who are part of this wave, what they're doing and how this is shaping our future. To many St. Louisans, this wave is not yet visible. InnovationSTL aims to change that. We welcome you to share your knowledge, learn more about this vibrant trend and discuss its impact.

Featured Articles

Regina Carter brings jazz and therapy to Children's Hospital

6:36 am on Mon, 12.09.13

One night, the violinist is taking bows before a standing ovation at Jazz at the Bistro. The next afternoon, some of her audience may have trouble standing, but the kids in the playroom at Children's Hospital were no less appreciative. “Jazz is medicine personified," according to a doctor who brings in the jazz musicians.

Featured Articles

Featured Events:

Upcoming Events

View Full Calendar

More About The Beacon Home