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LGBT community shares stories and laughs during Equality Day

LGBT community shares stories and laughs during Equality Day

February 21st, 2018 by Joe Gamm in News

Rep. Tom Hannegan, a gay Republican from St. Charles, addresses PROMO, Missouri's LGBT advocacy organization, Tuesday during the annual Equality Day. The day began with sign-ins and tips on how to lobby legislators followed by a rally in the Rotunda and visits to lawmakers.

Photo by Julie Smith /News Tribune.

Cathy Serino arrived early to the Capitol on Tuesday to hear speakers during Missouri's LGBT Equality Day; she sat in the front row.

The transgender woman, who's lived in Missouri about 30 years, said events like the one Tuesday are opportunities to educate the public and legislators.

"I try to make a good first impression," she said. "Sometimes lawmakers have never met a trans person before."

PROMO, a statewide lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual advocacy organization, hosted the annual event, intended to let the LGBT community meet elected officials and support legislation like the Missouri Nondiscrimination Act. This year marks the 20th consecutive year the act — this year under Senate Bill 753 — has been introduced in the Legislature.

SB 753 would prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

The act would protect the community member's rights to employment, housing and public accommodations, PROMO Executive Director Steph Perkins said.

The LGBT community just wants to be treated equally with other community members, Serino said. Folks in the community want to be able to hold a job or rent a home without fearing they may lose those rights because of their sexual preferences.

"In Jeff City, I could be kicked out of any business just because somebody doesn't like the way I look," she said. "Being free and equal — that's just basic humanity."

Some lawmakers are starting to come around to supporting the LGBT community with legislation, she said.

More than 100 people attended the rally in the Capitol Rotunda. They listened as openly gay legislators
discussed the challenges they faced growing up.

State Rep. Greg Razer, D-Kansas City, told listeners he understood what it was like being gay — and hiding it— when he was a teenager in a rural town.

A college roommate was one of the earliest people he told. The roommate told Razer he had only two questions.

"Are you in love with me?" the roommate asked.

"No" was the answer. Then the second question:

"You're gay, right? So why isn't our apartment decorated better?" the roommate asked.

It's easy to speak to Razer and other supporters of the LGBT community about the issues they face, but some legislators are more difficult, Perkins said. Attendees of Equality Day broke into lobby teams to meet with lawmakers.

"These rallies," Serino said, "are perfect opportunities for large numbers of LGBT people to come and talk to lawmakers."

Missouri remains in the lower half of states in terms of LGBT equality, according to assessments by the Human Rights Campaign. The State Equality Index looks at statewide legislation and policies related to parenting, relationships, religious-refusal, non-discrimination, hate crimes, health and safety.

The work always continues, Perkins said. However, as long as Missouri is moving forward, he's happy.

"I never want to say, 'I'm done,'" he said. "It's about how you measure progress sometimes. Progress is making sure more and more people understand the lives of LGBT people."