ACLU of Missouri has a long and proud history of championing the rights of our LGBTQ communities. The first LGBT rights case was brought by the ACLU in 1936, well before equality was considered a cultural norm. But we don’t fight for cultural norms. We fight for the dignity that the Constitution guarantees to all people – and that puts our organization at the forefront of advocacy for many.
As we look back on 2018, we’re hopeful that our work this year has made a difference for thousands right now, as well as laid the groundwork for a more inclusive Missouri in the future.
LGBTQ Protections in Missouri’s Human Rights Act
Early this year, ACLU of Missouri filed two amicus briefs – one on behalf of Rene Frost and Harold Lampley’s charge that the Missouri Human Rights Commission should hear their discrimination case and the other on behalf of R.M.A., a transgender student in the Blue Springs School district whose request for accommodations was denied by the school district. Both cases claim discrimination because of sex. Missouri’s Human Rights Act prohibits discrimination based on sex as well as other protected categories but it does not explicitly include sexual orientation and gender identity, leaving too many vulnerable and unprotected against discrimination.
While a final decision from the Supreme Court is still forthcoming, we are steadfast in our conviction to fight for inclusion in Missouri’s Human Rights Act. Outside of the courtroom, this year, for the 21st year, we will push for legislative action to update Missouri’s Human Rights Act.
ACLU Speaks at Midwest LGBTQ Rights Conference in St. Louis
James D. Esseks, Director of the ACLU Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender & HIV Project, spoke at the Midwest LGBTQ Rights Conference in February. He spoke on our impact on LGBTQ rights. “The ACLU organizations in the states, like the ACLU of Missouri, are experts in the local landscape. They know the state-level press, legislators, courts, and advocates. The National office has folks who are subject matter experts on a range of civil rights and civil liberties issues. The magic of the organization is that together, we have a range and depth of local and subject matter expertise that I think is unrivaled by any other organization. It makes the ACLU incredibly effective because that partnership is woven into the fabric of everything we do.”
ACLU of Missouri Defends Safe Schools for All Students
All students deserve to learn in a place where they feel safe – this includes LGBTQ youth. Our past cases have ensured students are free to form gay-straight alliances and, seek support against bullying. But we recognize that there are many obstacles yet to overcome. We are consistently fighting for students’ to use the restrooms and locker rooms that align with their identity. Our youngest deserve respect and dignity, too.
Defending the Right to Live with the One You Love
This summer, ACLU of Missouri proudly co-represented Mary Walsh and Bev Nance, a married lesbian couple, against St. Louis senior housing community, Friendship Village Sunset Hills. Contrary to their name, Friendship Village was not welcoming to Mary and Bev, despite qualifying for housing, and denied them a unit claiming it followed the “Biblical definition” of marriage. However, Friendship Village is open to the public and does not have any religious affiliation. Had Mary and Bev been married to men instead of each other, their application would have been approved. Their exclusion from this community is the result of discrimination alone – the exact type of discrimination that the Fair Housing Act prohibits. ACLU of Missouri is suing on their behalf. The case is ongoing.
Making LGBTQ Protections State Law
The Missouri Non-Discrimination Act (MONA) has been introduced in the Missouri Legislature for over two decades.
Though Missouri has protections for sex-based discrimination, it does not explicitly include LGBTQ people and those with non-binary gender identities. LGBTQ Missourians are often fired, kicked out of their apartments, and denied healthcare because of who they are.
Simply put, MONA would extend the existing Missouri Human Rights Statute to include LGBTQ individuals. This is the second time in twenty years that the Missouri Nondiscrimination Act has passed out of a committee in the House. This is a promising development and one that ACLU of Missouri will continue to champion until all Missourians are protected equally regardless of sex or gender.
Telling Joyful Stories from Missouri’s Transgender Community
Just as ACLU was integral in leading the charge for marriage equality, we also believe that the fight for full protections isn’t over. The rights of transgender and gender non-conforming individuals across the nation are under attack and we won’t stand for it in our state. ACLU of Missouri's newest initiative, the Transgender Education and Advocacy Program, seeks to empower local trans communities and to help cis (or non-transgender) Missourians learn how to be better allies. By telling joyful stories we can raise visibility and approach change from a place of community and acceptance instead of fear and misinformation.
ACLU of Missouri has worked steadfastly to defend civil liberties for all Missourians, regardless of who they love. 2018 adds another year of championing LGBTQ rights across the state. ACLU of Missouri is proud that our work continues to be at the forefront of making change for our neighbors and ensuring that, like ACLU does across the country, we are able to fight for equality under the Constitution.