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National gay-rights activists to gather here next week

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, July 27, 2009 - Somewhat encouraged, a bit disappointed and definitely not complacent.

That, in essence, is the mood that local gay-rights leaders are expecting next week when more than 100 activists from around the country gather in Clayton for the summer meeting of the Equality Federation.

The five-day event begins Wednesday at the Crowne Plaza, and is hosted by PROMO, Missouri's most well-known group seeking to advance lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender rights.

The federation is an alliance of 51 such state-based advocacy groups.

“This is a unique opportunity for leaders in the state based LGBT rights movement to share strategy,” said PROMO executive director A.J. Bockelman in a statement. “Not only does the Equality Federation provide a central core of knowledge for so many state-based organizations to collaborate and communicate, it is a vital hub of resources."

Toni Broaddus, the federation's executive director, added, “Our summer meeting offers state leaders the opportunity to share their successes and learn from others working toward the same goal across the nation. With the great strides being made for fair and equal treatment of our community on the federal and state level, it is important we gather and strategize now more than ever."

Bockelman said in an interview that many gay activists have "a sense of frustration'' that new President Barack Obama and the Democratic-controlled Congress haven't moved quickly on some of the issues important to the gay-rights movement, such as eliminating the military's "don't ask, don't tell'' policy, improving anti-discrimination protections and adding violence against gays to the federal hate-crimes law.

But Bockelman added, "Looking at the long view, many feel confident they will see progress."

For example, he said, almost 60 individuals who acknowledge being gay hold key positions in the Obama administration.

Ironically, the federation's event in St. Louis comes just days after members became upset at U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., over comments she made Wednesday during her regular radio broadcast.

McCaskill brought up gay marriage as she explained her opposition to a proposal -- defeated later that day in the U.S. Senate -- that would have allowed people with concealed-carry permits in one state to carry those weapons in another concealed-carry state, even if the restrictions differed in the two states.

McCaskill defended her vote by saying she considered the matter a states' rights issue. She added that the philosophy behind the gun proposal could be used to press states like Missouri to accept other states' actions on controversial issues like gay marriage. She noted that Vermont now allows gay marriage, while Missouri has banned it.

Bockelman said the incident was an example of a difference between McCaskill's "public stance versus private stance" on gay rights. She's generally seen as supportive, but at times makes public comments that sound otherwise, he said.

After the flap arose with some gay rights groups over her radio comments, McCaskill issued a clarifying statement:

"In talking about my recent vote against the gun provision offered in the Senate, I wasn’t clear when I stated that my vote against that provision was because it came down to a states’ rights. I was expressing my frustration in that some who argue that states shouldn’t respect the laws, certificates, or permits from other states when it’s convenient, like with gay marriage, but then argue that they should when it’s convenient on another issue, like gun rights. They can’t have it both ways.”

Monday Update --

PROMO's report to the convention is likely to include praise for the city of St. Louis' new anti-discrimination law pertaining to city contracts -- signed Monday by Mayor Francis Slay -- that includes sexual orientation as among those factors that deserve protection from such discrimination.

Said Bockelman in a statement about the measure, “This is an exciting day for equality in Saint Louis and for Missouri. Very few cities in the United States have included sexual orientation and gender identity or expression in their non-discrimination policies with regard to contractors. We hope this will point the way for other jurisdictions throughout the state and indeed throughout the country to emulate the leadership in fairness and equality being displayed so movingly in St. Louis City today.”

Alderman Shane Cohn, a sponsor of the bill, added in the same release: “As we continue to make strides toward justice for all, this legislation benefits working-class St. Louisans of all backgrounds. I'm particularly proud today of our city and its leadership in protecting and ensuring rights for our LGBT sisters and brothers.”
"The bill’s language for the Non-discrimination Policy Requirement is as follows: 'On each public works contract, for which the design teams estimated base value of the contract is one million dollars ($1,000,000) or more, the agency shall require that all contractors assigned to work have a personnel policy which prohibits discrimination based upon race, color, creed, religion, sex, national origin, age, disability, veteran status, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression.' ”

Jo Mannies has been covering Missouri politics and government for almost four decades, much of that time as a reporter and columnist at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She was the first woman to cover St. Louis City Hall, was the newspaper’s second woman sportswriter in its history, and spent four years in the Post-Dispatch Washington Bureau. She joined the St. Louis Beacon in 2009. She has won several local, regional and national awards, and has covered every president since Jimmy Carter. She scared fellow first-graders in the late 1950s when she showed them how close Alaska was to Russia and met Richard M. Nixon when she was in high school. She graduated from Valparaiso University in northwest Indiana, and was the daughter of a high school basketball coach. She is married and has two grown children, both lawyers. She’s a history and movie buff, cultivates a massive flower garden, and bakes banana bread regularly for her colleagues.