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Missouri gay
rights group marks 20th anniversary

Missouri gay
rights group marks 20th anniversary

Missouri has made strides over the last two decades in protecting the rights of its lesbian, gay, transgender, and bisexual residents, the leader of advocacy group Promo said. "The past 20 years have made a world of difference," Julie Brueggemann said Wednesday at a celebration of the group's 20th anniversary. "Even though [gay] people can face discrimination in the workplace and there's discrimination coming from the state in the foster care system, I think on the whole that things are definitely moving forward."

The group was founded in St. Louis as the Private Education Rights Project to work for the repeal of a state law that made sodomy between same-sex partners a crime. In July, three years after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled a similar Texas law unconstitutional, the group finally got its wish when Gov. Matt Blunt signed legislation removing the sodomy statute from the books. "We're very happy with the outcome," Brueggemann said. "Many of the legislators realized this [statute] was unconstitutional and unenforceable. We need to stand behind what the Supreme Court said and comply with that decision."

Promo, which started as an all-volunteer group, now has four paid staff members and offices in Springfield and Kansas City. Sarah Finken, head of the Kansas City office, said the organization has grown from 400 member households five years ago to 1,200 households in 2006. The group also had its own lobbyist in Jefferson City for the first time this year.

Challenges remain for Promo, though. The repeal of the sodomy statute prompted the state to drop its support of the Department of Social Services' decision to deny a foster care license to a lesbian from Kansas City on the basis of her sexuality. The woman is otherwise qualified to be a foster parent. Receiving licenses, the department said, does not mean that gays and lesbians will have foster children placed with them. Promo's main objective now, however, is supporting the Missouri Non-Discrimination Act.

"Most people aren't aware you can be fired in Missouri because you're gay or lesbian," said Doug Gray, a board member in Kansas City.

Progress is being made, Brueggemann said, noting that nondiscrimination policies have been passed in cities including Columbia and Kansas City. (AP)

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