CLAYTON • After hearing from an impassioned crowd of supporters and opponents, the St. Louis County Council moved closer Tuesday to adopting a bill that would add gender identity and sexual orientation to the county’s anti-discrimination regulations and hate crimes law.
The bill would add protections for people of various sexual orientations in employment, housing and public accommodations and other aspects of government in unincorporated areas of St. Louis County.
In addition, it would extend protections for people on the basis of gender and disability.
At the County Council meeting Tuesday, 15 people spoke against amending the ordinance.
But the County Council also heard strong support for the bill from University City Councilman Terry Crow, who successfully introduced a similar bill in University City and helped create that city’s domestic partnership registry.
Crow said that after University City adopted its bill, Olivette, Richmond Heights, Clayton, Creve Coeur, Ferguson and Maplewood adopted similar ordinances. St. Louis City already has such an ordinance, and Kirkwood is considering one.
Crow said he and his partner were the “proud parents of two children” and active in their church and community.
Also supporting the bill is County Executive Charlie A. Dooley.
Dooley said in an interview Tuesday that he had introduced the county’s hate crimes bill when he was a county councilman and fully supported this one.
“It’s the right thing to do,” Dooley said.
The council opted by voice vote to advance the bill so it could be voted on for final approval or rejection as early as next week. The council is divided on the measure.
County Councilman Pat Dolan, D-Richmond Heights, a sponsor, said Tuesday, “It’s 2012 and discrimination of any kind should be eliminated.”
Councilwoman Kathleen Burkett, D-Overland, is co-sponsor.
Among the 15 people who spoke against the bill were at least two pastors and the state director of Women of America in Missouri. Several said it would “open a Pandora’s box” and burden some businesses.
David Fondren, of South County, said that he believed that the changes were unnecessary and that gay individuals already had equal rights.
“Homosexuals have not had ... separate drinking fountains and facilities ... Jim Crow laws or been denied the right to vote ... been forced to live on a reservation due to their race,” Fondren said.
The Rev. Harold Hendrick, of the Bott Radio Network and Hendrick Ministries, said he approved of protections for race and certain other categories that “can’t be changed” — but not for a what he believed was a “lifestyle of choice.”
Specifically, the bill would prohibit discrimination in county contracts for services, supplies and construction. It also would protect lesbians, gays, bisexual and transgender individuals by including them in the county’s fair housing and public accommodations ordinances.
The bill would cover demotions and discharges, promotions and appointments in the county’s merit system of employment. The coverage also would be extended to people with disabilities.
The county’s ordinance already prohibits discrimination with respect to race, color, religion, national origin, gender and familial status.Andrew Shaughnessy, representing PROMO, a statewide LGBT rights organization, told the County Council that “LGBT Missourians are our friends…our neighbors…our family…and our co-workers, who have contributed every day to the dialogue and economy of the St. Louis region.”