UM System mirrors Columbia with new nondiscrimination policy

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COLUMBIA- The University of Missouri System added gender identity and gender expression to its nondiscrimination policy in June, mirroring policies the city of Columbia has used since 2011.

The new nondiscrimination policy applies to all schools in the system: University of Missouri, Missouri University of Science and Technology, University of Missouri-St. Louis and University of Missouri-Kansas City.

"It allows students to be more comfortable on campus, and it also is letting the UM system take steps in the right direction for equality for all," recent MU graduate Kearston Winrow said.

The original nondiscrimination policy for the university system said, "Equal opportunity shall be provided for all employees and applicants for employment on the basis of their demonstrated ability and competence without discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, national origin, age, disability and status as Vietnam-era veteran."

While the UM system's addition of gender identity is progressive, its nondiscrimination policy is actually behind that of Columbia businesses, including Boone Hospital, one of the top employing private businesses in the city.

Boone Hospital's nondiscrimination policy for patients states that no one "shall be excluded from participation, denied the benefits of, or subjected to any form of discrimination, including any disparate treatment because of race, color, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or disabilities." The employment nondiscrimination policy also includes gender identity. That's because the city of Columbia requires all businesses to follow its nondiscrimination ordinance involving employment, housing and public accommodation.

The city of Columbia's nondiscrimination ordinance was established in 1974. In 1992, it was updated to include sexual orientation, and most recently, in 2011, gender identity was added to the ordinance.

Gender identity is not recognized as a statewide category for nondiscrimination in the state of Missouri. The Department of Labor and Industrial Relations in Missouri enforces the Missouri Human Rights Act. The act "makes it illegal to discriminate in any aspect of employment because of an individual's race, color, religion, national origin, ancestry, sex, disability or age," when it comes to employment.

There have been several efforts to add gender identity to nondiscrimination policies in Missouri. The most recent effort is the Missouri Nondiscrimination Act (MONA), a joint effort from Promoting Equality for All Missourians (PROMO) and Progress Missouri. MONA would prohibit discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation in the workplace. Alex Townsend, a PROMO PAC board member, said many cities in Missouri, in addition to Columbia, are supportive of MONA.

"I think that seeing places like the University of Missouri and the different municipalities across the state of Missouri, like St. Louis, Clayton, Kansas City, Columbia, moving toward including nondiscrimination ordinances on their local books just shows how much support there is for MONA statewide," Townsend said.

MONA passed in the Missouri Senate for the first time in 2013. More than 500 businesses in the state of Missouri support MONA, and 71 percent of Missouri businesses support inclusive nondiscrimination policies.

"PROMO meets with legislators regularly, particularly during the legislative session, and they meet with legislators after the legislative session, just to make sure we have those relationships," Townsend said.

MONA stalled in the Senate in this year's legislative session. Some that oppose the bill, have no problem with the LGBT community, but rather with the draft of the bill itself.

"It's not that we felt like employers should discriminate against anyone," Ray McCarty, president of the Associated Industries of Missouri, said. "In fact, we hope that employers have policies in place that keep them from discriminating against anyone, but our problem is that it sets up a new line of legal cases and a new way to sue employers."

Gov. Jay Nixon expressed his support for MONA in his State of the State Address in January. "No Missourian should be fired because of who they are or who they love," Nixon said. "Last year, the Missouri Nondiscrimination Act passed the Senate with bipartisan support, but failed to get to my desk. Let's get it done this year."

PROMO Senior Field Organizer Kyle Piccola said they hope to get MONA passed in the next legislative session.