It is dangerous to be LGBTQ in America today.
Around the country, LGBTQ people face attacks from all sides. Legislation targets transgender youth, separating them from their peers and from supportive adults. LGBTQ people, especially transgender women of color, endure assault and murder. Businesses refuse to serve LGBTQ people. Families continue to kick LGBTQ youths out of their homes.
And where can these fellow Americans find protection? Not in the Missouri state legislature. Not in the federal government. Not even in Jackson County.
Thankfully, the Kansas City Council is covering where the county, state and federal government have failed. Crissy Dastrup and I fought for the creation of the Kansas City LGBTQ Commission, which was formed last December. Change, visibility and empowerment for our community cannot wait, so we acted. In recent years, change hasn’t come from the top down, but rather from the bottom up. If we can pass the federal Equality Act now in Congress and obtain President Joe Biden’s signature, we would once again see transformative change come from the top down.
The Equality Act is the LGBTQ community’s civil rights bill. It is vital to the welfare of our country that it passes and is signed into law. This legislation would provide comprehensive federal nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ people throughout the country, amending the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex, sexual orientation or gender identity. While it passed the House of Representatives in February, it is awaiting action in the Senate.
Despite the landmark Supreme Court decision for marriage equality in 2015 and the recent expansion of nondiscrimination employment protections in 2020, unequal treatment and prejudice against LGBTQ people is still an alarming reality, especially here in Missouri. There are significant gaps in protections for millions of employees in businesses and religious institutions as well. LGBTQ Americans are vulnerable in housing, education, health care and public accommodations across the country. Today, 27 states — including Missouri — have no nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ people. This means a landlord in Independence can refuse to rent to a same-sex couple. A college student in Columbia can be kicked out of school for being transgender. A hospital in Kansas City or St. Louis can refuse to treat a transgender man. The Equality Act addresses all of these issues.
Yes, this is transformative change at the national level, but that same equality would be felt here in our Kansas City community as well. Moreover, the passage of the Equality Act would bring every governing body in our country to a uniform level of protection. We should not leave the issue of human rights and equality to the states to interpret. We must act at the federal level and bring sweeping change to every part of our country.
Sadly, granting rights to underserved communities has become partisan in America. In Missouri, the supermajority Republican-controlled General Assembly has failed to pass statewide LGBTQ protections. Jackson County has yet to ban damaging so-called “conversion therapy” or have any LGBTQ representation at the county level. Kansas City is finally moving the needle when it comes to LGBTQ protections, but a municipal government can only do so much.
As the Equality Act sits in the Senate, it’s on every Missourian to call, email and mail our senators to tell them to assure LGBTQ Americans equal protection under the law. Sens. Roy Blunt and Josh Hawley are different types of Republicans. The LGBTQ community can’t count on Hawley’s support. My best hope for him is to refrain from his usual destructive rhetoric. But if anyone can move on the issue of LGBTQ protections, it is Roy Blunt. Since he is on his way to retirement, I hope he makes his last vote count.
The Republican Party, nationally and here in Missouri, has a reputation of never showing up for the LGBTQ community. Sen. Blunt, this is your opportunity to prove us wrong. This is your opportunity to show those who love this state, who choose to live here and who work every day to make things better, that their lives deserves equal protection under the law. Everyone in Kansas City deserves the Equality Act.
Justice Horn is vice chair of the Kansas City LGBTQ Commission and a former NCAA wrestler.