KANSAS CITY, Mo — There’s a movement throughout the country to protect the rights of people in the LGBTQ community.
Activists in Kansas and Missouri have been trying to pass legislation for years, but now the federal government may step in and take that battle away from the states.
There are 30 states that don’t have laws protecting the rights of the LGBTQ community, putting an estimated 12 million people at risk for discrimination.
Kansas and Missouri are on that list. In fact, when it comes to providing protections for people in the LGBTQ community, Kansas and Missouri are among the lowest rated in country.
Experts say that sort of discrimination hurts the community and especially those who are trying to live their best life.
“It is just a unique experience and so specific that there is nothing comparable to it,” Alexander Williams said.
Williams graduated from Blue Valley and is a freelance animator. His goal is to someday be an art director on a video game.
He’s like every other 26-year-old man reaching for his dreams — except he was born a girl.
“It wasn’t until I was around 10 or 12 that I started feeling that something was more off, but 12 is puberty age and I thought that is just puberty,” Williams said. “It wasn’t until I was 14 until I actually first heard the word transgender.”
It was a long journey for Williams. After years of self-reflection, he came out as a man at 21. Along with the challenges of young adulthood, Williams is also up against the challenge of facing discrimination for being a transgender male.
“I guess if you could compare it to something similar in the 50’s or 40’s, people that were left-handed. They didn’t have a choice they were left-handed,” social worker Bill Art said. “And so they were forced to be right-handed, and they weren’t born that way.”
Art works with Maddison Avenue Psychological Services and has helped Williams through his transition, which is a very dangerous time for people struggling with gender identity.
“In my work with them, I know that and suicide prevention and belongingness is an issue and perceived burdensomeness,” Art said. “And so a lot of the folks that have transgender issues have both of these things going on which makes them a lot higher risk for suicide.”
In fact, the suicide rate in the transgender community is alarming.
A study done by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and The Williams Institute finds that 41 percent of transgender people try to kill themselves as opposed to 4.6 percent of the general population.
“Our folks walking through the world that happen to be trans. How can we really create a story that pulls from the fullness of their life as opposed to pigeon holing them in their gender journey?” asks Jay-Marie Hill, the education and advocacy program coordinator for the ACLU of Missouri.
They said there’s an evolution of the once underground community, people who have been put through the ringer medically and psychologically to prove who they are.
“People have had to hide who they have wanted to be because if you are trying to say, ‘I’m fully who I am,’ and then you are denied a job or denied health care, housing or employment, then you’re going to be having to figure out how to live a life, right?” they said. “And that might be in private because you can`t make a life in public.”
For the 21st year in a row, there is a LGBTQ anti-discrimination bill for consideration in the Missouri Legislature. Additionally, 55 Kansas lawmakers support a similar law on the other side of the state line. Both bills would protect LGBTQ folks from discrimination in employment, housing and other services.
Legislative insiders believe neither has a chance of becoming law.
But what Kansas and Missouri legislators do might not matter so much in the end.
What is being called a historic bill may soon hit the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives. The Equality Act would provide those protections for the LGBTQ community.
In all, 130 companies spread throughout all 50 states have banned together, urging congress to pass this federal anti-discrimination law
Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly has made a small step forward. She has ordered state agencies to prohibit discrimination against LGBTQ employees. She has also said she will sign the anti-discrimination bill into law if it successfully gets through the legislature.
Missouri Gov. Mike Parsons said he supports expanding the state’s anti-discrimination law to include sexual orientation and gender identity.