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Above: Gov. Mike Parson after passing Missouri's new restrictive abortion law.
“I think all life has value–all life does,” Parson said. “And I have been pretty clear about that my entire career. And I’m gonna stand up for the people who don’t have a voice. And everybody should have the right to life and I believe that.”
But as I, a Missouri woman, sat in the gallery of the House of Representatives on Friday as legislators debated and then passed HB 126, it was clear to me that Parson’s claim that all life has value could not have been further from the truth. I, along with more than 150 pro-choice protestors, listened to nearly two hours of debate—and the things we heard were horrifying.
Rep. Barry Hovis, a Republican, used the phrase “consensual rapes.” Democrat Cora Faith Walker wept as she expressed how Missouri has one of the highest mother mortality rates in the country—and that as a black woman, she was four times more likely to die in childbirth than a white woman. What stood out to me most prominently, though, was the GOP’s repeated claims that they were taking a stand for life.
As a lesbian Missourian, I know too well how virulently anti-LGBTQ the Missouri legislature is.
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Missourians gather on the streets of St. Louis to protest HB 126.
For 21 consecutive sessions, the Missouri legislature has filed various versions of the Missouri Nondiscrimination Act (MONA), and for 21 consecutive sessions, the bill has failed to even be brought to a vote. MONA would add gender identity and sexual orientation to Missouri’s already existing protections for race, class, sex, and religion.
Under the current law, LGBTQ Missourians can be fired, evicted, or kicked out of public accommodations. Missouri remains one of 28 states which fails to protect its LGBTQ citizens. Passing MONA would save thousands of queer lives, as safe employment and stable housing are imperative for survival.
Rep. Greg Razer, a Democrat and the openly gay sponsor of MONA, gave an emotional testimony on the house floor on Friday. Razer pointed out the hypocrisy of the GOP's narrative: “Don’t tell me you’re pro-life until you finally stand up and address the fact that too many teenagers just like me that are gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender are killing themselves.”
According to House Minority Leader Crystal Quade, Missouri Democrats have fought hard for these protections.
“The chamber now has four openly gay members and several staffers but that still is not enough,” she tells NewNowNext. “This year, we offered an amendment to house rules to at least bring employment protections to the staff of the house which was struck down. Employees had to watch their own bosses say they should be allowed to fire them for who they are.”
Quade also explains that on Tuesday, May 14, after Democrats realized that MONA would not be brought to a vote before the session ended, they offered MONA as an amendment to every single bill that was on the calendar for the day. Despite Democrats’ best efforts, Quade says that Missouri Republicans decided “LGBTQ lives are not valuable enough to the GOP to even have a vote.”
As Razer observed, a party that claims to be pro-life but blatantly fails to protect the lives of LGBTQ Missourians is not a pro-life party. Full stop.
In a recent Pew Research Center survey, 77% of Missourians identified as Christian. Another study found that LGBTQ youth have suicidal thoughts at a rate over three times that of heterosexual youth—and lifetime suicide rates for LGBTQ youth are four times that of the suicide rate for heterosexual youth.
Even more startling, however, is the fact that while religiosity was a factor that helped prevent suicide attempts and suicidal thoughts among heterosexual youth, for LGBTQ young people, religion was associated with a 52% increase in suicidal ideation. With such a large population of Evangelical Christians, it should come as no surprise, then, that Missouri has the 15th highest rate of teen deaths by suicide in the U.S.
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Missouri Gov. Mike Parson.
The Evangelical Christians who claim to be “pro-life” are the same Evangelicals who perpetuate dangerous anti-LGBTQ rhetoric in churches across the U.S. Growing up in a small fundamentalist Baptist church in Missouri, I was told that homosexuality was just as evil as pedophilia and bestiality. “Pro-life” Evangelicals also perpetuate violence against queer people on an institutional level. Back in 2015, a prominent mega church in my city campaigned against a citywide ordinance that would protect LGBTQ citizens from discrimination.
In states like Missouri, which leans so heavily Evangelical and also refuses to provide any protections for LGBTQ people, growing up queer is terrifying. In fact, many young queer Missourians will never grow up at all.
Gov. Parson claims he stands with “the people who don’t have a voice.” To that, I’d like to pose this question: Who is more vulnerable and voiceless than queer youth?
Furthermore, why does Parson refuse to stand up for them?
Last week, Parson tweeted, “It's time to make Missouri the most Pro-Life state in the country!” But until Missouri legislators decide that LGBTQ lives are worth defending, the governor has no right to call Missouri “the most pro-life state in the country”—and Republicans have no right to say that they are “pro-life.”
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