SPRINGFIELD, Mo. - Mirroring a wave of anti-equality efforts in state legislatures and cities across the nation, opponents of a recently passed LGBT-inclusive nondiscrimination ordinance in Missouri's third largest city are asking voters to repeal the law on April 7.
In a 6-3 vote on Oct. 13, The Springfield City Council passed City Ordinance 6141, a bill to amend the city’s current nondiscrimination ordinance by adding sexual orientation and gender identity to the list of protected categories in employment, housing, and public accommodations.
But any celebration was short-lived when the following month an opposition group successfully turned in more than 2,600 signatures (the threshold is 10 percent of the votes in the most recent April municipal election) to repeal the expansion through a ballot referendum known as Question 1.
Proponents of the repeal say they don't want the regulations expanding into their businesses, their churches - or their bathrooms.
"We're in a battle for our children and our children's children," said Calvin Morrow, Yes on Question 1 spokesman, the Springfield News Leader reports. Morrow went on to call the ordinance an attack on Christianity.
While Missouri LGBT advocates maintain that religious freedom is a fundamental part of Springfield and America, they reject such arguments, saying those beliefs do not allow for businesses to discriminate.
"Protecting people from discrimination, including people who are gay and transgender, is about treating others as we want to be treated," said Stephanie Perkins, Deputy Director of PROMO, Missouri's statewide LGBT advocacy organization. "It’s not for us to judge. Even though we may have different beliefs, what’s most important is focusing on what we have in common – taking pride in our work, respecting coworkers and serving customers, and getting the job done."
Another charge leveled by backers of repeal is the lack of a "bathroom exception" in the nondiscrimination ordinance. According to Marrow, the ordinance should not apply to any facility that is distinctly private in nature (restrooms, shower rooms and dressing rooms), warning that women and children are at risk if a sexual predator were to falsely claim to be transgender to gain access to such facilities.
"All of us, including transgender people, care about bathroom safety and privacy," countered Perkins. "It’s reassuring to know that 17 states and more than 200 cities across the U.S. – including 14 right here in Missouri – have already passed and successfully implemented these kinds of laws with no increase in public safety incidents."
Faith Leaders Face Off on Question 1
One of biggest proponents for repealing Springfield's LGBT inclusive nondiscrimination ordinance is the Rev. John Lindell, pastor of
Southwest Missouri's mega James River Church. With an Assemblies of God congregation over 9,000 strong, Lindell took to the pulpit in an anti-gay sermon, March 15, urging his flock to vote yes on Question 1.
"It is possible for someone who has practiced a life of adultery to stop," Lindell preached. "It is possible for someone who has been a life-long alcoholic to stop. It is possible for somebody who has a cutting tongue and a big mouth to stop. It is possible for someone who is engaged in homosexual behavior to stop."
"This ordinance reduces freedom of religion to freedom of worship," Lindell continued. "In other words, you can believe what you want within the confines of the four walls of the church as long as you don't live it outside of the church."
But on Thursday, a group of local Christian leaders who favor Springfield’s expanded nondiscrimination ordinance gathered to urge voters to reject such vitriol.
Among them was John Cremeans, an evangelical pastor with The Commons, a nondenominational church in Springfield. Cremeans', who once viewed being LGBT as something that could be "prayed away" had his word view changed when his son came out as gay.
"I began to reach out to the LGBT community to gain perspective, to gain insight," said Cremeans. "Their stories of how they've been treated were devastating to me; the rejection that they felt, the judgment, the bullying that I saw. Living as an LGBT person for a lot of people means living in a culture of fear."
Washington Ave. Baptist Church Deacon Wes Pratt added to the statement.
"As an American, as a black male, and as a native son of Springfield, Missouri who knows the history of legal and illegal discrimination of this nation towards historically excluded groups, I will never condone discrimination against anyone, including any member or neighbor within the LGBT community," said Pratt.
"It disturbs me to listen to the vitriol, listen to the misrepresentations, to listen to the mean spiritedness that sometimes comes from people who are supposed to be of the cloth towards people of our community who are LGBT," Pratt continued. "That disturbs me. But as a man, as a social justice advocate, as someone seeking equal opportunity, I will never condone, nor will I ever accept discrimination on the basis of who a person is or on the basis of who a person loves."
Of eight efforts nationwide to repeal existing LGBT inclusive nondiscrimination laws, four have prevailed at the polls. In Dec. 2014, Fayetteville, Ark. voters successfully repealed their LGBT nondiscrimination law by approximately 500 votes.
141 Springfield businesses have signed on in support of the No Repeal campaign and according to organizers, the LGBT and ally community across the state has stepped up to aid the effort.
"Individuals from Springfield's LGBT and ally community are on the phones and doors every day, urging people to vote no," said Perkins. "They share with voters how the repeal of these protections would harm them and their families in their everyday lives, sharing personal stories with voters, really putting themselves out into their world in a powerful way."