On Tuesday, November 27, 2012, the St. Louis County Council took its final vote on Bill No. 279, which adds sexual orientation and gender identity to its non-discrimination clause. I attended that meeting along with seven members and friends of our congregation – Jeff Gidday, Kevin Horth, Lauren Lyerla, Aja Lyonfields, Jake Lyonfields, Laurie Mecham, and Nancy Vosnidou.
It’s hard to find the words to describe what it meant to be sitting in the Council Chambers with people from this congregation. It was our community, we were each other’s strength and support. It became crystal clear why it was so important for us to be there and how important it is that our liberal religious message of acceptance, affirmation, and compassion is there for our community.
Three of us addressed the Council in support of Bill No. 279, and after the meeting we were all approached by others in the audience who thanked us for speaking and wanted to know more about Emerson Chapel. What we offer is what so many hunger for, regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity.
Thankfully, the Bill passed, 4-3. Discrimination on the basis of gender identity and sexual orientation is now against the law in Unincorporated St. Louis County.
Included below are the comments that I, Jake Lyonfields and Lauren Lyerla addressed to the Council. Please be sure, when you see them next, to thank Jake and Lauren for standing on the side of love. And be sure to thank those who attended in moral support.
Yours in faith, Rev. Krista.
I thank the St. Louis County Council for the opportunity to speak in support of Bill 279, which would add sexual orientation and gender identity to nondiscrimination protections in employment, housing, and public accommodations.
My name is Jake Lyonfields from Ballwin, and I’m currently a student at Washington University in St. Louis. I also regularly attend church in St. Louis County. This is, for me and for so many of my friends and family, a place we call home.
When I was in middle school, I spent some time questioning my sexual orientation. It was a harrowing experience, not because it should have been, but rather because I was told repeatedly by some of my peers, and by some adults that being anything other than heterosexual was a bad thing. This community, this home, felt unsafe to me.
It took a little more growing up for me to understand that this home, my home, is unsafe, regardless of whether I myself feel as such.
I am a heterosexual. I cannot be fired for being who I am. I cannot be denied housing or other public accommodations based on who I love. But many of my friends who live here can be. Some members of my congregation, some people that I consider family, live with uncertainty in this home, with the fear that they may someday lose what they’ve built because of a flaw in our foundation.
I implore the council to help make this house a little sturdier. This place can lift up us all – we just have to be willing to reexamine the rickety, well-worn parts that suggest otherwise.
My name is Rev Krista Taves. I am here on behalf of Emerson Unitarian Universalist Chapel, a church that is intentionally inclusive of those who identify as sexual and gender minorities. This is an extension of our religious faith and our commitment to justice and truth.
My life partner and I are also homeowners and taxpayers in Unincorporated St. Louis County and we started a family business in Ballwin.
We have heard many fear-based arguments tonight from those opposed to Bill 279 and they are an excellent example of what sexual and gender minorities often face every day. It is especially frightening when it has the force of law behind it. That is why I am so thankful for Bill 279. Everyone has the right to their personal views on homosexuality, but you cannot deny people their basic civil rights because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
This bill is no threat to religious freedom because we have a separation of church and state in this country. This bill is no threat to families. It will support our families. The biggest threat to families is economic insecurity. When a breadwinner loses their job or is denied housing and services because of their sexual orientation or gender identity, it hurts them and everyone that depends on them. This bill protects our families.
Thank you for a bill that supports the sacred values of fairness and equality through equal protection under the law.
My name is Lauren Lyerla and I have been a resident of St. Louis County for most of the 29 years I have lived in this region, including the last 15 years in Maryland Heights. My husband and I pay our taxes and take care of our property and pick up after our dog. We are good citizens. I vote in every election, even the little ones. I am involved in my son’s school and very involved in my church, Emerson Unitarian Universalist Chapel in Ellisville. And I am here to speak in support of Bill 279.
I applaud the council for considering this measure. It is, in my opinion, long overdue. I have gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender friends, neighbors, fellow congregants, fellow parents, clerks at my grocery store. They, too, are good citizens who vote and pay taxes and pick up after their dogs. And they have no less inherent worth or dignity than I do. No one should be discriminated against because of who they are.
You can fire people for not doing their jobs, and evict them if they don’t pay their rent. Those are behaviors, choices. But it is wrong that someone can be fired or evicted because of who they are. Bill 279 is our chance to correct this injustice. Gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender St. Louis County residents are my equals and my peers, and they should be treated as such under the law. And I believe that St. Louis County is the kind of place that wants to treat its residents – all of its residents – with kindness, fairness, and justice.
I thank you for your time and attention, and for your support of Bill 279.