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Columbia bars gender identity bias

COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) — The city of Columbia has become the sixth Missouri community to outlaw discrimination based on gender identity.

City Council members voted unanimously on Monday to include gender identity as a protected category in the municipal code’s prohibition of discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations.

The measure defines gender identity as a person’s “identity, appearance, or mannerisms or other gender-related characteristics,” regardless of the individual’s designation at birth as male or female, the Columbia Missourian reported (http://bit.ly/uo1zZP).

Columbia has prohibited discrimination based on sexual orientation since 1992. When the Human Rights Commission recommended similar protections for gender identity in 2002, the council took no action because of opposition from local employers, City Attorney Fred Boeckmann said.

Many members of the council were surprised by the city’s reluctance to include gender identity in the discrimination policy.

“I’m sorry it’s taken nine years. It’s way overdue,” Fifth Ward Councilwoman Helen Anthony said. “I’m going to be happy to support it.”

Jessica Orsini, a transsexual alderwoman from nearby Centralia who pushed for years for the Columbia policy change, dropped to her knees and pumped her fists following Monday’s vote.

“I’ve been waiting for this for 11 years,” Orsini said.

Orsini said she knew at age 3 that she was female, and that she only felt comfortable in her body once she had gender reassignment surgery in 1998. She said after her surgery, potential employers and landlords discriminated against her when they noted her name change.

Columbia joins Kansas City, St. Louis and the St. Louis area communities of Clayton, Olivette and University City in prohibiting gender identity discrimination.

“Now that it’s here in Columbia, maybe we can take steps in Centralia,” Orsini said. “Maybe.”

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Information from: Columbia Missourian, http://www.columbiamissourian.com

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