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Kirksville joins list of cities that have expanded nondiscrimination policies

KIRKSVILLE — The Kirksville City Council voted 3-2 to add sexual orientation and gender identity to the City’s nondiscrimination policy Monday night during the second attempt at voting on this issue in the last two months.

The ordinance went through more than a dozen drafts, was discussed during multiple public hearings and was initially voted down by the City Council during the July 1 meeting. After it was voted down, backlash from Kirksville and statewide residents prompted new draft proposals of the ordinance and eventually the vote Monday night.

Concerns about First Amendment rights were chief among the issues raised during the Council meeting by people on both sides of the issue. Many concerns were raised about religious belief, others about safety concerns for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered persons and several comments dealt with concerns from business owners about their rights and the rights of their employees.

Adding sexual orientation as a protected class within nondiscrimination policies has been a discussion point throughout many cities and states during in the recent past, including several within Missouri. In fact, Kirksville joined several other Missouri areas in the addition, including St. Louis City and County, Kansas City, Clayton, Kirkwood and Columbia. Kirksville is the first city north of the I-70 line to finalize the change.

Kirksville’s State Rep. Nate Walker, a Republican, watched the City Council meeting via a live stream provided by LGBT advocacy group that helped draft the ordinance, Missourians for Equality.

Which senators voted for and against the Senate Substitute for House Bill 320 - a statewide version of the expansion of the nondiscrimination policy.
Which senators voted for and against the Senate Substitute for House Bill 320 – a statewide version of the expansion of the nondiscrimination policy.

“Discrimination against anyone is wrong,” Walker told The Missouri Times after the vote. “It’s just wrong.”

Walker was preceded in the legislature by Republican Zach Wyatt who announced during the second year of his first and only term that he is gay. Wyatt’s announcement was prompted by concerns he had about bullying involving a bill sponsored by Rep. Steve Cookson, R-Poplar Bluff, in 2012 that was commonly referred to as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, dealing with discussion of sexual orientation in a school setting.

On a statewide level, several bills with similar intentions to Kirksville’s new ordinance were attempted during this past session, including Senate Bill 96 and House Bill 615.

Sponsor and cosponsors of HB 615

It’s no secret that as session continues, efforts of bills that don’t make it out of committee later get attached as amendments, which happened and was followed up on during the final day of session when Democrat Sen. Jolie Justus’ Senate Substitute for House Bill 320 was heard and passed in the upper chamber with a 19-11 vote. Nine of the 19 “yes” votes were from Republicans. The Kirksville area Senator, Brian Munzlinger, was a “no” vote.

Justus’ version of the bill wasn’t taken up for a vote in the House, but the list of people who co-sponsored HB 615, a bill with similar intent, included support from both sides of the aisle. Among those supporters: Kirksville’s Nate Walker. Walker was joined by several Republican colleagues, including Reps. Noel Torpey, Kevin Engler, Anne Zerr and Sheila Solon.

The push to continue what cities like St. Louis, Kansas City and Kirksville have done in terms of nondiscrimination policy inclusion will inevitably continue on a city and statewide level. One known effort is by Missourians for Equality, a group that is currently collecting petitions to place a ballot measure regarding the nondiscrimination policy issue in front of voters during the 2014 election.

For more information about the commentary during the Kirksville public hearing prior to the vote, be sure to read some of the local news outlet’s stories: