Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Messenger: Lawmakers Try to Turn Back the Clock on Gay Rights [Corrected 12/12/16]

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Messenger: Lawmakers Try to Turn Back the Clock on Gay Rights [Corrected 12/12/16]

Article excerpt

UPDATE: An earlier version of this column improperly stated the procedure for SJR 39 to end up on the Missouri ballot.

I owe much of my understanding of gay and lesbian issues to a visit with Gene and Barbara Sternberg in 1992.

The Sternbergs were royalty in Evergreen, the small mountain town west of Denver where I was executive editor of the weekly Canyon Courier newspaper. Gene, a Jewish, Czech-born architect who escaped his Nazi-occupied homeland with a scholarship to the University of London's Bartlett School of Architecture, was a renowned designer of public buildings in the region, from hospitals to high schools. His wife, Barbara, was an author and art lover. They were respected and influential.

During that year, Colorado was embroiled in a heated campaign over gay rights. Several cities in the state, including Denver and Aspen, had passed ordinances protecting gays and lesbians from discrimination, much like the ones St. Louis and many cities in the region have passed in recent years. The answer to those ordinances from some political corners was Amendment 2, which sought to ban local laws protecting the civil rights of gays.

Some time during that campaign, the Sternbergs came to my office to talk about two of their six grown children. They were gay. When they came out to their parents, the Sternbergs struggled with the news, as I recall. But they loved their kids. They studied the issue. They joined Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, now known as PFLAG, and found neighbors and friends who had been through their own, similar experience. They couldn't imagine living in a world that treated their own children as second- class citizens.

So they were publicly joining the movement against Amendment 2. They asked me to join them and I did, writing columns and editorials about the hateful, discriminatory proposal.

Times were different then. This was long before same-sex marriage was even on the horizon. The debate over Amendment 2 was simple. Are our gay neighbors full citizens of the nation or aren't they?

Colorado voters said they were not. Amendment 2 passed overwhelmingly.

Four years later, the U.S. Supreme Court tossed Amendment 2 on the trash heap of America's history of discrimination, ruling that it violated the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment.

Two decades later, state lawmakers in Missouri and points south are trying to relitigate the issue.

Last week, the North Carolina legislature passed, and its governor signed, a sweeping bill that stops cities from protecting its gay, lesbian and transgender residents from discrimination. The bill was presented as an emergency response to Charlotte's passage of an ordinance protecting the right of transgender people to use the restroom of the sex they identify with, rather than the gender they were born with. …

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