While support for the lesbian-gay-bisexual-transgender (LGBT) community has grown over the last two decades, many lawmakers are still stuck in the past.
Fortunately though, LGBT rights organizations and supporters, in coalition with unions and people of color, are trying to make long overdue legislative changes on the state and federal level. In many ways, the workplace, as well as the schoolyard, have become key ideological battlegrounds in the ongoing fight for LGBT rights.
PROMO, a Missouri-based LGBT rights organization, is in the midst of lobbying for two pieces of legislation that would mean the world to the LGBT community locally and broaden the fight for LGBT rights nationally.
The first would expand the Missouri Nondiscrimination Act, which protects individuals from sexism, racism and other forms of discrimination in the workplace. PROMO’s legislation will add “sexual orientation” to the list.
Although this may seem like a minor change in wording, PROMO faces an uphill battle in the Republican-controlled Missouri House of Representatives. Currently 47 of the 163 state representatives have signed on.
Missouri state Rep. Jeanette Mott Oxford, a co-signer, believes this issue is very important.
“It’s a shame that people can still be legally fired for their perceived sexual orientation,” Oxford told the World. “When younger voters are polled, their support is strong. It shows that as a society we’re moving forward, but it is taking time for legislation to catch up.”
A recent national online survey conducted by Harris Interactive showed that in 2005, 88 percent of LGBT workers consider it very important that their company have a written nondiscrimination policy. Only 50 percent of the LGBT people surveyed felt that they were treated fairly at work.
Currently 17 states have nondiscrimination laws that include sexual orientation.
The workplace is only one front in the battle to expand LGBT rights. Schools are another. PROMO is working on another measure, the Missouri Anti-Bullying Legislation, which would not only protect children from homophobic bullying and discrimination, but would also expand protections for children who face race, gender and other forms of discrimination.
“We’ve had some very good experiences. Some schools take bullying seriously,” Julie Brueggemann, PROMO’s executive director, said. “But we’ve also had very bad experiences. Some teachers and administrators haven’t taken any action to prevent bullying. We need an across-the-board policy on bullying.”
A 2001 National Health Association survey showed that nearly 80 percent of LGBT children were bullied while in school.
According to the survey, 22 percent of gay respondents had skipped school in the past month because they felt unsafe. The survey also found that the dropout rate of LGBT teens is three times that of heterosexual students.
“No student can learn effectively in a hostile atmosphere,” said Brueggeman. “LGBT kids are often subjected to bullying and intimidation. Some aren’t comfortable going to teachers or administration because in their experience, they haven’t been helped.”
These issues aren’t exclusive to Missourians. Several national organizations, including many unions, are fighting for LGBT rights across the country. For example, Pride at Work, a constituency group of the AFL-CIO, believes in building unity between LGBT workers and their unions. While passing legislation is a step in the right direction, a union contract is still the best protection LGBT workers have in the workplace.
With the mid-term congressional elections coming up, LGBT organizations are focusing on electing progressive candidates in hopes of shifting the political balance of forces away from the ultra-right.
If we can build a more progressive Congress, LGBT rights won’t be far behind.
Julia Weaver is a media communications major at Webster University and an intern with the PWW in Missouri/Kansas.