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Columbia Missourian

GUEST COMMENTARY: Fairness means inclusive policies for all Missourians

By AJ Bockelman
November 14, 2013 | 4:05 p.m. CST

As the executive director of PROMO, I understand what fairness means to Missourians.

I understand that fairness means an employee should be evaluated and promoted based on his or her ability to do the job.

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I understand that fairness means a lease should be renewed based on whether the tenant pays the rent and takes care of the place.

I understand that fairness means a Missouri hotel room should be available to whoever can get a reservation and pay in full for the room.

I understand that fairness does not discriminate. However, in the state of Missouri, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people can be fired from their jobs, evicted from their homes, and denied access to public accommodations and services.

According to a study recently released by the Williams Institute, approximately 160,000 LGBT people live in Missouri, and 100,000 LGBT Missourians are in the state’s workforce (roughly one in every 30 workers in Missouri). Yet only a handful of Missouri cities and counties have local ordinances that offer any protection against discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

Happily, a number of top employers in Missouri recognize that attracting and retaining talented employees means creating discrimination-free workplaces. At least 52 companies headquartered in the state, including eight Fortune 500 firms, have enacted their own policies prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. PROMO has found that having inclusive policies in your workplace is good for business.

In fact, the private sector is leading the public sector on this issue. This past spring, Missouri’s state Senate passed a bill that would prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity in employment, housing or public accommodations.  The House failed to take it up before the session ended. It wasn’t because of lack of familiarity; similar bills have been introduced in every state legislative session for more than a decade.

And the bill’s failure to pass isn’t because of administrative burden or cost. As the Williams Institute notes, two different analyses of the bill have estimated its annual cost at less than $40,000. According to the Williams Institute’s analysis, complaints of LGBT discrimination would likely account for fewer than 50 of the more than 1,800 discrimination complaints the Missouri Commission on Human Rights handles each year.

As a percentage of overall discrimination cases, that isn’t many. But for each of those LGBT individuals driven to file a case, granting them the ability to do so would mark the difference between not just a paycheck and a handout, a safe home and a more unsettled existence, but also the difference between personal dignity and societal apathy.

It is time for people in Missouri to agree that a person’s ability to participate fully in that society should not be determined by their sexual orientation or gender identity.

AJ Bockelman is the executive director of PROMO, a statewide organization advocating for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender equality.