Andrea Waner has served as the chair of the City of Columbia’s Commission On Human Rights since 2017, with the goal of making Columbia a more inclusive community.
Columbia has earned perfect scores on the Human Rights Campaign’s Municipal Equality Index each year since Waner has been the chair. Waner has worked to promote inclusion through campaigning for affordable housing and fair lending, and was one of the leading forces behind the City Council’s 2019 decision to ban conversion therapy for minors.
Would you say the conversion therapy ban is one of your biggest accomplishments? What else are you proud of?
I would say that’s probably the biggest one because we were the first one in the state to pass something like that. And since then, St. Louis and Kansas City passed it, and now St. Joseph is pursuing it. So that kind of cleared the way.
I’m proud of our commission for continually looking for ways to protect people from discrimination. So, our city ordinance right now is pretty vast and robust in comparison to other communities — like, we have a lot of protected categories. It’s beyond just the race, sex and religion that you see at the federal level, but sexual orientation and gender identity are included on ours, receipt of governmental assistance, status of order protection, those are all included on ours, too. So, I’m pretty proud that we are constantly looking for ways to ensure that people are treated equitably.
What do you think the city still needs to do to address human rights disparities?
There’s a lot of work that needs to be done — continually using equity, diversity and inclusion work as more than just a checkbox to say, “OK, we’ve done this.” But really to use that to guide every decision that the city makes — using it as a moral compass. The city budget should be reflective of the priorities of the institution. Until you see a city budget reflect those equity, diversity, inclusion and morals, there will always be work to be done.
How did your passion for social justice develop?
The biggest fulcrum of my involvement came when I worked for Stephanie Browning at the Health Department. I came on board there when they were going through their very first community health assessment in 2013. We were doing a lot of community listening sessions and seeing what people wanted to see change in Columbia and where the issues were. We kept hearing about health disparities and the impact that has on the black and brown community. Stephanie said, “It’s clear that you care about this. Why don’t you help with the work?” So, she really empowered me to break outside of what I was doing and learn more. She funded some of us at the Health Department to go through a diversity facilitator workshop to become trainers for the city. I was one of the first two that went through that program, and I wouldn’t have gone had Stephanie not said “you’re bigger than what’s just in your scope of work right now; you can do those other things.” So I credit her with a lot of that.