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PROMO and supporters see hope for MONA next year

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – The University of Missouri System added gender identity and expression to their nondiscrimination policy — which already included sexual preference — this past month, joining many other large employers in the state in their employment policies. However, Missouri does not include gender identity or sexual preference in their human rights statutes.

For the past decade, Missouri Nondiscrimination Act (MONA), has been filed in every session. The bill would do just that — add protections for gay or transgendered individuals to state law prohibiting discriminatory housing or hiring practices. Under current Missouri law, gay or transgendered individuals can be fired or evicted without cause. In more recent years, PROMO, a group that fights for LGBT rights in Missouri, has started to appeal to the business community in their efforts to get MONA passed in order to revise the state employee nondiscrimination policy.

Stephanie Perkins
Stephanie Perkins

“We have great bi-partisan support,” PROMO Deputy Director Stephanie Perkins said. “This most previous session, we really expected to keep that momentum going and really focus on business support – we had over 540 businesses sign on in support of MONA. These businesses were from all over the state.”

Two legislative sessions ago, MONA passed the Senate, however, the bill did not make it to a vote in either chamber this past session, which some conclude is because of political end-game goals.

Perkins told the Missouri Times that businesses, such as ExpressScripts, Monsanto, ConAgra, AMC Theatres, H&R Block, Thompson Coburn, Sprint, J.P. Morgan Chase, Pfizer, and hundreds of small businesses, support MONA and many of them have reached out to legislators in an effort to change the state’s policy of nondiscrimination through letters, calls, or even visiting the Capitol on the group’s annual “Quality Day.” Many of these companies have non-discriminatory hiring practices, but no state law compelling them to do so in Missouri.

“A lot of places already have these protections,” Greg Porter, partner at the Catalyst Group said. “As far as many businesses are concerned, this issue is a no-brainer. There is a reason that those corporate companies already have those protections – they want to be able to hire the best and brightest without the factor of factors of whether they are gay or straight. They do not want people to not accept a job in Missouri because they do not have protections.”

Greg Porter
Greg Porter

Porter has lobbied for MONA and credited PROMO for their footwork in rallying businesses together. The group is very hopeful towards this next session.

“Not every Democrat in the legislature supports this, but many of them do,” Perkins said. “I don’t want to say that this is a Democrat issue. We have many, many Republicans who are very supportive of this and some of them it is because they are younger and they’ve grown up with those who are lesbian, gay, transgender and it simply is not an issue. For others, someone has come out to them and that has nothing to do with age – that really changes how you look at LGBT people, stereotypes and issues overall. It no longer becomes issues for ‘those people,’ it becomes an issue for people you know.”

Legislative leadership changes were cited as reasons supporters see progress on the horizon, especially considering Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon is sure to sign a bill, if passed by the legislature.

In the meantime, the group and many of its partners will continue to rally more support from individual businesses until next session.

“We feel it was an important move to talk to businesses – there are many who didn’t know you could be fired for being gay or transgender,” Perkins said. “It is simply a good business move for Missouri. It is important for Missouri to be a place to bring good talent. People want to live in a diverse environment and work in a place that values all of their employees and we want to be sure that the state is doing that as a whole.”

Missouri Workplace Equity is a joint project between PROMO and Progress Missouri which features a resource-rich website. The site cites and features studies from the Williams Institute, Lambda Legal and Rice University and others, which contend that workplaces that have LGBT-supportive policies are good for business.

One study states:

In short, the business case posits that a diverse workforce (or in more nuanced versions, a well-managed diverse workforce) will lead to lower costs and/or higher revenues, improving the corporate bottom line.

The site further contends that MONA will is “good business” because it not only encourages diversity, but “focuses on merit, increases productivity, and improves job performance.” It also reminds visitors that MONA is not exclusive to employment, but also provides protections to housing, public accommodations and services. Advocates for MONA cite the need for Missouri to grow in both employment and population as just one reason to expand legal protections.

“It isn’t really up to the business to take time to [have a nondiscrimination policy] – it is up to the legislature, especially when the businesses want it,” Perkins said, speaking further that not all businesses can afford or have human resource departments and legal teams to craft such policies, especially when a businesses’ first priority is to “make money and stay open.”

PROMO has recently been active in getting the word out on the four same-sex marriages that occurred in St. Louis last week, but MONA will not be placed on the back burner.

“I think that this is really, really important,” Perkins said. “We’re going to start talking about marriage equality coming up and we want to keep talking about marriage equality, employee nondiscrimination and health. We’re really here to work on all three issues.”

Missouri Revised Statues, Chapter 213 Human Rights, Section 213.055 includes race, color, religion, national origin, sex, ancestry, age or disability as conditions that cannot be discriminated against in employment.