For the 22nd time, a bill has been filed in the Missouri legislature that would protect over 180,000 LGBTQ Missourians from discrimination based on their sexual orientation and gender identity.
“The biggest hurdle we have now is convincing Republican leadership to care,” said the sponsor, Rep. Greg Razer D-Kansas City. “To care about LGBTQ Missourians.”
The Missouri Nondiscrimination Act, or MONA, would add sexual orientation and gender identity to the list of protected classes in the Missouri Human Rights Act, which would protect LGBTQ residents from discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations. Currently the protected classes include age, race and national origin.
The debate over potential legal protections for the queer community have been taking place across the country. In October, the U.S. Supreme Court heard a set of cases that called into question whether gay and transgender Americans are protected by Title VII from discrimination in the workplace.
Justice Neil Gorsuch said during the hearings that though there were strong arguments in favor of protection for LGBTQ employees, he thought it might be more appropriate for Congress — a legislative body — and not the court to change the law because of the massive upheaval he thought it was likely to cause.
“It’s a question of judicial modesty,” Gorsuch said, according to reporting by the Associated Press.
The Missouri General Assembly has declined to pass MONA for the past 21 years. Before Razer was a state representative he was a lobbyist for PROMO, a Missouri-based LGBTQ advocacy group, pushing MONA and other LGBTQ issues.
Razer said that though MONA has yet to pass, he’s seen a tremendous change in attitudes from the time he came to capital in the early 2000s.
“Republicans would see me coming, and they would scurry like cockroaches when you turn on the light,” Razer said. “They would just jump in a hallway to get away from me.”
Rep. Tom Hannegan, R-St. Charles, sponsored a bill nearly identical to Razer’s last session. According to PROMO, Hannegan has filed legislation similar to Razer’s bill.
Razer pointed to Hannegan’s legislation as evidence of the growing bipartisan support for queer rights. He said, however, resistance comes from Republican leadership.
The main opposition from conservative members is rooted in the same fear that Gorsuch expressed — the fear of a landslide of lawsuits resulting from making gender identity and sexual orientation protected classes. Razer said Republicans do not want to give another reason for employees to sue businesses.
“My response to that is, don’t fire someone because of who they love and you don’t have a problem,” Razer said.
A 2013 study by the Williams Institute estimated that if MONA became law, it would result in about 47 complaints of sexual orientation or gender identity employment discrimination annually.
The study also estimated, using data from the Missouri Commission on Human Rights, it would cost the state about $40,000 — about 2.5% of that year’s budget — to enforce LGBTQ workplace nondiscrimination.
Chuck Henson, a professor at MU School of Law who specializes in employment discrimination, said similar to MONA’s potential impact, he thought there would only be a marginal increase in federal cases of discrimination if the Supreme Court ruled that gender identity and sexual orientation are protected under Title XII.
“I don’t think that we’re looking at some slippery slope here of massive amounts of litigation that overwhelms the dockets of all the federal courts,” said Henson.
Razer said that, as a gay Missourian, it is important for him to keep fighting for the next generation and to remind them they are valued in Missouri.
“We want you to be here. We want you to stay in Missouri. We want you to be a proud Missourian,” Razer said. “Let’s give these kids some hope.”
Supervising editor is Mark Horvit.