St. Louis County Law Would Be Biggest Gay Rights Win Yet in St. Louis

Update: Bill 279 passed by a vote of 4-3.

Editor's note: This story has been changed to reflect how many residents the St. Louis County ordinance would impact.

Organizers with the LGBT advocacy group PROMO are optimistic about passage tonight of Bill 279 that would add sexual orientation and gender identity to St. Louis County's anti-discrimination law.

The bill advanced last week on a voice vote with only council members Colleen Wasinger and Gregory Quinn objecting to the measure. Andrew Shaughnessy, the St. Louis organizer with PROMO, tells Daily RFT that he's "very optimistic" that the bill will gain final approval at tonight's meeting, even though the legislation has many vocal detractors.

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At last week's council meeting fifteen people, including Rev. Harold Hendrick of the Bott Radio Network and Bev Ehlen of Concerned Women for America, spoke against the bill, opposing the measure on a litany of moral and lifestyle grounds. Shaughnessy and Terry Crow, an alderman from University City, which approved a domestic partner registry for same-sex couples in 2011, were the only people to speak in its favor.

"We are confident the council will remedy our exclusion from protections that others are afforded and to recognize our diversity in the workforce," says Shaughnessy.

He adds that the county's current non-discrimination law contains loopholes that allows gay, bisexual and transgendered people to be fired from their jobs, denied housing and turned away from public accommodations based solely on their sexual orientation and gender identity.

If passed tonight, Bill 279 will impact more area residents than any singular LGBT non-discrimination ordinance passed to date. Ten local governments in Missouri (including St. Louis, Kansas City, Richmond Heights, Maplewood, Ferguson, Olivette, Columbia and Creve Coeur) have approved ordinances adding sexual orientation and gender identity to their non-discrimination statutes.

St. Louis County's bill would impact an estimated 321,000 residents in unincorporated areas of St. Louis County, making it slightly more encompassing (based on population) than the nondiscrimination ordinance in St. Louis City, which has a population of around 319,000 residents.

Kansas City, with a population of 463,000, is the largest city in Missouri to have passed an anti-discrimination ordinance that includes language specifying sexual orientation.

Already at least one St. Louis County business owner, Allen Bovey, owner of the Larimore House Plantation, a wedding reception venue in Spanish Lake, tells the Post-Dispatch that he wants an exemption should the council pass the law. Bovey, who identifies himself as an evangelical Christian, doesn't want to host gay "wedding-type celebrations" on his property.

Shaughnessy says he hopes that Missouri legislators will eventually pass a statewide law, like 20 other states, that prevents businesses and governments from discriminating based sexual orientation. A bill that would do so was has been introduced each of the past thirteen years in Jefferson City but has never advanced past the House floor.

"That leaves it to local municipalities to stand up and take a stand," says Shaughnessy.
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