When the St. Joseph City Council met Sept. 10 to vote on whether to approve the city’s new non-discrimination ordinance, the room was so crowded that many people had to stand, said Daniel Ramming, board member with the Midland Empire Equality Coalition.
The vast majority of people in the room were positive about the ordinance, he said, although a few in the crowd brought up fears about where it would end if the city supported men having sex with men and whether children might be involved next.
Ramming said that the ordinance, which gave protections against housing and employment discrimination, also had support from the local college. One of the student governors spoke in favor of it, he said.
The ordinance was approved, 8-1.
“The one no vote, he didn’t have any animus. He just thought it was unnecessary or unenforceable,” said Ramming.
On the City Council, Ramming noted, the ordinance was championed by Councilwoman Brenda Blessing, who is openly gay, and Councilman Brian Myers. They had a chance to celebrate Sept. 15 as grand marshals of the St. Joseph Pride Fest Parade.
Ramming said that the St. Joseph ordinance was modeled after the Columbia, Missouri, non-discrimination ordinance. He credited PROMO, Missouri’s statewide organization advocating for LGBTQ equality, for its assistance in drafting the St. Joseph law.
Although Ramming said he was pleased with the outcome, he was concerned that it does not solve the problems associated with public restrooms when some people want to make them gender-specific based on birth gender.
The language in the ordinance concerning housing and employment, he said, “says gender identity, gender-related identity, appearance or mannerisms, or other gender-related characteristics of an individual with or without regard to that individual’s designation or designated sex at birth.”
Springfield, Missouri, added sexual orientation and gender identity to its non-discrimination ordinance in 2014, only to see it overturned by voters in 2015. Ramming doesn’t think that will happen in St. Joseph.
“We don’t need to hammer the doors tomorrow. Let’s give them a year and see what happens.”
Ramming said that the city has been supportive. “One of the reasons why the compromise worked,” he said, “is because the Chamber of Commerce offered $5,000 to the Human Rights Commission to get it started. The city offered $500/year [for organizations that promote human rights]. And also, they were going to work within their organization to increase the number of businesses that have a nondiscrimination hiring policy. So if they can get that done, the city is going to add sexual orientation and gender identity to their hiring practices.”