Bill would include sexual orientation in Missouri Human Rights Act

Monday, March 22, 2010 | 10:45 p.m. CDT

JEFFERSON CITY — Through tears, a former vice president of a St. Charles County credit union told her story of being fired in 2000 because she was gay. She said she had just received two large bonuses for meeting goals but soon after was fired for "bad business decisions."

"I'd have to say that this is probably the most humiliating and embarrassing thing that's ever happened to me in my life," Heidi Martin said. "I suffered about a year of extreme depression over this."

Her testimony came during a bill hearing before the House Urban Issues committee. The bill would add sexual orientation as a category protected under the Missouri Human Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination in the areas of employment, public accommodation and housing.

"Most people are surprised to find out that, for instance, you can be asked to leave a restaurant if you're gay," said the bill's sponsor, Rep. Stephen Webber, D-Columbia, at the hearing.

Urban Issues committee member Rep. Hope Whitehead, D-St. Louis, said she was surprised to hear protection against sexual orientation discrimination doesn't already exist under state statutes and said the bill deserves to be heard on the House floor.

Several witnesses testified in favor of the bill, and no one spoke in opposition. Webber said he was a slightly surprised no one spoke against the bill but noted there are still a lot of groups who oppose the legislation.

"They're trying not to be seen," he said.

Rep. Mike Colona, D-St. Louis, said some of the state's biggest employers in St. Louis already have nondiscrimination policies. He said private industry entities as well as organized labor groups have taken action to protect against sexual orientation discrimination, and that Missouri should follow their lead through creating statewide legislation.

No date for a vote has been set. A Senate version of the bill had public testimony heard in February, but no date for a vote has been set for this version either.

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