MU students lobby for gay rights bills on Equality Day

MONA and the Safe Schools Act would strengthen current legislation by adding more LGBT-friendly statues.

MU students advocated for LGBT-friendly legislation by discussing the Missouri Non-Discrimination Act and Safe Schools Act with Missouri lawmakers at PROMO Equality Day.

The event was held Wednesday in Jefferson City.

PROMO is a statewide organization that advocates for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered equality. Claire Cook, Kansas City and Mid-Missouri regional field organizer for PROMO, said the organization has consistently sponsored this event since 2003.

According to PROMO’s website, the Safe Schools Act would strengthen current anti-bullying legislation and reduce the amount of harassment on members of the LGBT community. MONA would include sexual orientation and gender identity as protected under the Missouri Human Rights Statute.

Members of MU’s Triangle Coalition and the Council of Student Social Workers attended the event.

“Both of these bills have been on dockets for years,” Triangle Coalition liaison Taylor Dukes said. “We’re not expecting them to pass this year, but we’re expecting to make headway. If we continuously introduce them, they will eventually be passed and bring more equality to Missouri.”

Dukes said this was the first time in recent memory TriCo organized a group to attend Equality Day.

“A big part of social work is social justice, and this is a social justice issue,” CSSW President Zoe Koch said. “We consider it getting equal rights for all.”

PROMO provides training sessions all across the state for those interested in attending Equality Day. Cook said these sessions are tailored to teach people about the bills and what to expect at the event.

This is Cook’s second Equality Day working for PROMO.

“I love Equality Day,” Cook said. “It is our day once a year where we bring people from across the state to lobby their elected officials and talk to them about issues that are important for the LGBT community.”

An outdoor rally on the lawn kicked off the event. More than 14 legislators came and spoke to participants about the importance of Equality Day and what it means for them to see everyone coming out and getting involved, Cook said.

After registering, participants received folders with information about the representatives each group was assigned to speak with and pieces of the bills to discuss with them, Dukes said.

Cook said the participants are divided into lobby teams of about four or five. Then they were sent off on appointments to meet with various representatives.

“We were very conscious to make sure that these were productive meetings to put a face with an issue,” Dukes said.

Koch’s group met with three representatives, all with different attitudes about the issues.

“Representative Jason Barnes was first,” Koch said. “He wasn’t really interested in our two bills, and he was really rushed. I expect that any legislator would be happy to talk to their constituents because that’s who elects them to office.”

TriCo member Theo Tushaus said his group tried to get representatives to commit to voting on the legislation.

“We spoke to Representative (Kurt) Bahr mostly about the Safe Schools Act,” Tushaus said. “He had a lot of questions about it and why it was important. He actually listened to us and was engaging.”

Koch said she hopes CSSW will attend Equality Day again in the future. She also said she and Dukes are looking forward to getting more people involved with the event next year.

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