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The Missouri Nondiscrimination Act is a bill that has been introduced into the Missouri legislature for 21 years straight but unfortunately has never passed. It is far beyond time for our legislature to pass the bill and protect Missouri residents from discrimination based on their inherent characteristics of gender identity and sexual orientation.
When I came out as transgender, I was riddled with anxiety. Would my family accept me? How would I navigate the medical system and my new life? One thing I didn’t worry about, though, was whether I would still be employed after coming out. I was a working professional when I came out, and my company had explicit and deliberate gender identity protections built into their handbook. That didn’t give me any special rights, but it ensured that I couldn’t be fired for coming out as transgender. It meant that, professionally, my transition went smoothly and without incident, and my workplace remained a safe and productive environment for all. Unfortunately, such an easy experience makes me an anomaly. According to the National Center for Transgender Equality 26% of transgender people have lost jobs due to bias - over one in four people. Because of this, transgender people are more likely to be unemployed, underemployed, or otherwise denied the ability to contribute to a robust, diverse society.
It’s not that these protections are novel - plenty of states and jurisdictions have non-discrimination laws covering gender identity and expression. Already, 26 states have statewide protections based on gender identity or expression, and several Missouri municipalities have successfully enacted non-discrimination statutes covering gender identity. The Movement Advancement Project estimates that only 18% of Missourians are protected by these patchwork anti-discrimination laws. This means 72% of hard-working trans & gnc Missourians are being denied an opportunity to work in order to provide for themselves and their families because of an inherent characteristic of who they are. Having robust employment protections makes Missouri more attractive for employers- it’s not just TGNC employees missing out.
These protections are even more vital at this particular moment in history. On October 8th, 2019 the Supreme Court of the United States heard three cases, the crux of which being whether employers could fire their employees for being queer or trans. While we do not expect to have the outcome of that case until Spring 2020, it’s imperative that we cement local protections - we cannot wait on the federal legal protections that may or may not come.
So what can Missourians do? We can join the ACLU and PROMO as they work to help push our legislators to pass gender identity and sexual orientation protections. You can also add deliberate protections into your organizations' bylaws affirming gender identity and sexual orientation protections. If you are an employee in the workplace, petition your employer to add such protections and request that your fellow co-workers are trained on its importance, knowing that for many employers, this works to advance the overarching goals of diversity and inclusion.
Regardless of what your HR handbook says, the ACLU has listed some incredible and simple steps you can take to act as an ally in your workplace. Your solidarity looks like respecting their choices, correcting others who misgender - intentionally or not -, and working to educate yourself and others about the beauty and diversity they bring to the workplace. The legislature may not have moved the way we’d hope, but we trust in the many of you who will continue to build a welcoming Missouri no matter what they say.