BY Loann Halden
October 01 2009 2:55 PM ET
How would describe the current state of LGBT rights in Missouri?
In 2001 we passed a hate-crimes law that was trans-inclusive, and I'm really proud of Missouri for having that on the books. I talked to people who were in the legislature then, and frankly, they said there was no discussion at the time; it wasn't a battle the way it would be today. In addition to the nondiscrimination act, we are trying to pass a bill that would provide protections against school bullying that includes sexual orientation and gender identity. We had a hearing in 2007, and it was unbelievable to me the backlash that came. Folks on the extreme right side of the issue were arguing that we don't need enumerated categories and it's impossible to define sexual orientation. I feel huge victories by being an openly gay elected official in Missouri, and then there have been huge disappointments as well. It's a big roller coaster to say the least.
You successfully ran for the Missouri senate in the fall of 2006, only two years after fully coming out. It doesn't sound like coming out or even getting married so publicly has had a negative impact on your political career.
My district, the Kansas City district, I would argue is probably the most progressive in the state. We had the first openly gay elected state rep in the '90s, Tim Van Zandt. The bulk of the voters I knew would be totally fine.
Coming back from Iowa on the bus, my partner and I were on our iPhones and we changed our Facebook status from "in a relationship" to "married," and within an hour I had a call phone from a news reporter at TheKansas City Star, and he wanted to know the whole story. It cracks me up how changing your Facebook status can have such an immediate ripple effect. They ran the story on Monday and it was just a little blurb. When I got back to the capitol, all of my colleagues had seen the newspaper article, and I was really surprised who said congratulations to me. There were people who had battled me openly on LGBT issues on the senate floor, and they came up to me and because of our personal relationships were giving me hugs and high fives.
Missouri is not known as a hotbed of LGBT tourism, but I know a lot of people who have ended up in Kansas City for business and are pleasantly surprised.
I couldn't be more proud of Kansas City and how open it is. We have a nondiscrimination law on the books in Kansas City that includes gender identity. We've got domestic-partner benefits for our city employees and our firefighters and police officers. As far as politicians, they all vie for the LGBT Democratic club endorsements. It's amazing to me how much power the LGBT community wields politically in Kansas City.