The Human Rights Campaign recently released their fifth annual State Equality Index — a state-by-state report detailing statewide laws and policies that affect LGBTQ people, assessing how well states are doing to protect LGBTQ individuals from discrimination.
This year, Missouri received the lowest rating, “High Priority to Achieve Basic Equality.” This rating is given to states that focus on raising suport for basic LGBTQ equality laws, such as non-discrimination laws, and for states focusing on municipal protections for LGBTQ people including opposing negative legislation.
Twenty-eight states earned this rating. Seventeen states earned the highest rating, “Working Toward Innovative Equality,” while the remaining five earned “Solidifying Equality” or “Building Equality.”
Karis Agnew, field director for PROMO, Missouri’s statewide LGBTQ advocacy organization, explained that they expected this rating for Missouri.
“It does not surprise me because there are basic protections that LGBTQ people lack in Missouri and those include protection of employment, housing and public accommodations,” Agnew said.
Missouri has a total of six laws that benefit LGBTQ people — hate crime laws, a college and universities non-discrimination law, a sexual orientation non-discrimination policy for state employees, an anti-bullying law specifically for cyberbullying, transgender inclusion in sports, and name and gender updates on identification documents for drivers licenses.
Missouri has five laws that the HRC categorizes as “bad” laws including HIV/AIDS criminalization laws, a state Religious Freedom Restoration Act, and transgender exclusions in state Medicaid coverage.
Missouri lacks all parenting laws such as parental presumption for same-sex couples, second parent adoption, and foster care non-discrimination. Missouri also lacks basic non-discrimination laws for employment, housing, public accommodation, education, adoption, foster care, insurance, credit, and jury selection.
The absence of youth laws in Missouri include anti-bullying laws, protection from conversion therapy, and laws to address LGBTQ youth homelessness. In the health and safety category, Missouri lacks laws including LGBTQ nondiscrimantion protections in Affordable Care Act exchanges, transgender healthcare coverage, and name and gender updates on identification documents for birth certificates.
Alex Padilla, co-president of Spectrum, an LGBTQ group at Missouri State Univerity, explained his fear regarding how few laws Missouri has protecting LGBTQ individuals like himself.
“Whenever I first came out, I was working at a fast food job and I was worried that I could be fired for who I was,” Padilla said.
He explained that he did a quick search online and found that there were no laws protecting him from being harassed or fired because of who he was.
Agnew, who prefers using gender-neutral pronouns, explained that although this rating is low, organizations like PROMO are working hard behind the scenes to make sure Missouri’s laws are progressing.
“When it comes to passing laws that are pro-equality, the thing that we really need the most to be able to do that is make sure that we don’t have bills that are anti-LGBTQ,” Agnew said.
Agnew explained that in 2018 five anti-LGBTQ laws were filed but PROMO worked to ensure zero made it to the governor’s desk to be signed.
“When those are filed, that is our priority, so it is really hard for us to file proactive legislation and pass proactive legislation when we have legislation that is harmful to LGBTQ people that we work so hard to prevent from passing,” Agnew said.
Agnew said a big reason why Missouri is far behind other states in passing pro-LGBTQ legislation is that Missouri legislators are not aware of what it is like to live as an LGBTQ individual.
“I think a lot of our legislators in Missouri honestly don’t know what it’s like to be LGBTQ — the majority of our legislators are not LGBTQ themselves,” Agnew said. “And because of that, I think a lot of them have a lot to learn from their constituents that are.”
Agnew said this year is the 21st year that PROMO has worked to file the Missouri Nondiscrimination Act, which would add protections for sexual orientation and gender identity in places of employment, housing and public accommodations.
“When their constituents aren’t bringing it up they assume it’s not important and not needed,” Agnew said. “The number one thing people can do is engage their elected officials and talk to them about why something like the Missouri Nondiscrimination Act is so important to them.”
Padilla explained how important it is for students to get involved.
“Help us lobby for equality, Padilla said. “Advocating for these things and showing that you are an ally is really helpful to all of Missouri and all of Missouri’s LGBTQ people.”
PROMO is hosting an “Equality Day,” a day of lobbying where people in the community come up to Jefferson City and talk to legislators about the Missouri Nondiscrimination Act on April 10.