JEFFERSON CITY – A member of Missouri's House has raised suggestions that she was denied a position on the House Committee on Children and Families because she is a lesbian.
While not directly charging sexual orientation bias, Rep. Jeanette Oxford, D-St. Louis City, said she had heard some members of the committee found her "offensive."
Oxford has served on the Special Standing Committee on Children and Families for four years but said she has not been given a satisfactory answer on why House Speaker Ron Richard, R-Joplin, denied her a position on the committee.
The power to appoint representatives to committees rests solely with the House speaker, but the minority leader is able to make recommendations.
Richard spokeswoman Kristen Blanchard said Oxford was rejected because many other representatives were interested in serving on the committee. Blanchard said Richard appointed Rep. Michael Corcoran, D-St. Louis County, because of their friendship and Corcoran's experience.
However, Corcoran was not Richard's initial choice for the position. Oxford said it was only after Rep. Belinda Harris, D-Hillsburo, stepped down from the position that Corcoran expressed interest in serving on the committee.
"If I were a poorly performing member of the committee, that would be plenty of justification for taking me off because I believe we should do our jobs," Oxford said. "But I've been doing my job."
The chairwoman of the committee, Cynthia Davis, R-O'Fallon, said Oxford's sexual orientation was not a factor in her rejection from the committee.
"Everyone in this building knows that there's no guarantee that because you were on a committee in a previous term that does not mean you're going to be on that committee in a future term," she said.
Davis said she has been denied positions on committees in the past and has never received an explanation.
Although Oxford will not serve on the committee itself, Minority Floor Leader Paul LeVota, D-Jackson County, appointed her as the ranking Democrat of the committee. As the ranking Democrat, she can use her influence to speak on behalf of bills but she cannot vote because she's not on the committee.
LeVota said Oxford's rejection was perplexing, as Richards accepted most of his committee recommendations.
"Rep. Oxford was a senior member of that committee last year and she has spent her life working on children's issues," he said. "She actually was a consultant to the Clinton administration."
Though she will not be allowed to vote on bills, the minority leader said Oxford would still be very valuable as a ranking member.
"Her knowledge and her hard work will help advance issues that are good for children and families, " LeVota said.
Oxford and LeVota are not the only legislators waiting for Richard's explanation.
Sen. Jolie Justus, D-Jackson, who is also a lesbian, said she wasn't sure why Oxford was left off the committee but thinks it would be a shame if sexual orientation was the reason.
"It's my understanding that she has been a very valuable member of that committee for several years, that no one is more knowledgeable and qualified to be on that committee than her," she said. "So when we heard that it was possible that she was left off of that committee because of her sexual orientation, it was very sad and frustrating."
Oxford said she will probably not be reappointed to the committee, but hopes she'll eventually receive a reason why.
"But that's part of oppression, is that you have to go through life wondering, 'What was that about?"