Measure to expand anti-discrimination law meets opposition

University City councilman speaks in favor of measure

By Kari Williams

Roughly 15 people voiced opposition last week to a measure being considered by the County Council that would add sexual orientation and gender identity to the county’s non-discrimination law.

The County Council voted 5-2 Nov. 20 to give initial approval to the proposed ordinance, which pertains to “discrimination by county contractors or in connection with” housing, public accommodations, county employment or hate crimes. Third District Councilwoman Colleen Wasinger, R-Town and Country, and Seventh District Councilman Greg Quinn, R-Ballwin, were opposed.

Final approval of the ordinance was scheduled to be considered Tuesday night — after the Call went to press.

Wasinger told the Call the “fundamental problem” with the legislation is it grants special protections under the law. She also said the County Council is not the “appropriate venue” to grant special rights.

“Those special protections are so very important and they should be debated — probably, most ideally, at the federal or state level,” she said. “Neither one of those governmental bodies have granted these special protection rights.”

During a period for public comment, resident John Haley said the proposed ordinance “presupposes discrimination on the part of contractors, on the part of housing and employers.”

“In so many areas, we already have safeguards against such discrimination and this is one additional layer of compliance that businesses and contractors and so forth will have to absorb and put into their system of hiring and/or maintaining legal services …,” he said.

Resident Lisa Pannett also spoke about the county “wanting to impose more restrictions on business owners.”

“I would think at this point you would want to try take the chains off of them and try to give them more leniency to try to hire people, instead of now asking them to become fortune tellers essentially, and decide what your sexual orientation and/or gender identity issues are,” Pannett said.

Fifth District Councilman Pat Dolan, D-Richmond Heights, who introduced the bill, told the Call some of the comments by speakers relayed misunderstandings of the ordinance.

“This ordinance will not have anything to do with the small business. Private business owner(s) can conduct their business any way they like,” he said. “This does not change how they do their business, their hiring, firing, whatever. This is for St. Louis County — if the county’s going to hire somebody.”

Kate Holloway, who serves on the Lindbergh Schools Board of Education, spoke in opposition to the proposed ordinance. She also questioned the timing of the council’s consideration of the legislation.

“My complaint is that you’re expediting a culturally altering ordinance when the general citizenry is preparing for a holiday, is least likely to be aware and show up for this ordinance …,” she said.

David Wissler, president of the New Gravois Township Conservative Republican Party, told the council residents have had “enough ordinances to put up with” and the county can continue to live without adopting the measure.

“We ought to get closer to God than keep doing what we’re doing with different ordinances to make other people special,” he said. “We’re all special. We’re all God’s creation. We don’t need any ordinance to tell us that.”

David Claybrook, who represents LIFE Is For Everyone Unlimited and Mission Metro St. Louis, said the bill would “publicly authorize and sanction a lifestyle that the Bible very specifically speaks against.”

“All of us are sinners, according to Scripture. All of us need compassion from one another and certainly from our Lord … I don’t need this council, or any other, to sanction a lifestyle that might not be healthy for our county …,” Claybrook said.

The Rev. Harold Hendrick, of Bott Radio Network and Hendrick Ministries, said he appreciates the protections for race and the disabled already included in the law — aspects of one’s life that cannot be changed.

“When it comes to a lifestyle based on world view … who’s to keep the Ku Klux Klan from coming in here or any group that says, ‘We have a lifestyle and we have a world view, we want the same kind of protection you’re giving in this case homosexuals,'” Hendrick said.

Terry Crow, a member of the University City City Council, spoke in favor of the measure. Crow introduced similar legislation in University City, after which other communities “followed suit,” such as Olivette, Clayton and Richmond Heights, according to Crow.

“I serve on our City Council. My partner serves on our school board. We are actively involved in our community … It is time for us to move forward on this issue,” Crow said.

Andrew Shaughnessy, of PROMO, a statewide organization that advocates for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender, or LGBT, equality, offered support for the bill.

“These LGBT Missourians are our friends. They’re our neighbors. They’re our family and our co-workers who have contributed every day to the dialogue and economy of the St. Louis region,” Shaughnessy said.

The LGBT community, according to Shaughnessy, is filled with “hardworking people that live in constant fear” of being discriminated against.

“This ordinance would remedy that fear by protecting the community that is already a part of St. Louis County..,” Shaughnessy said.

Dolan and 2nd District Councilwoman Kathleen Burkett, D- Overland, introduced the ordinance.