Voters in Springfield, Mo., voted by a slim margin to repeal protections against discrimination for the city’s gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender citizens.
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The measure passed in Missouri’s third-largest city with 51.4% of the vote Tuesday night.
“We are still here for each other, and we will still work together to continue to make Springfield a welcoming place for all people,” A.J. Bockelman, executive director of the LGBT rights group PROMO, said in a statement. “Tomorrow, just as today, we continue working to achieve equality.”
Last October, Springfield’s city council added sexual orientation and gender identity to an existing nondiscrimination ordinance, protecting against unequal treatment in employment, housing and public accommodations.
Opponents of the amended ordinance said Springfield businesses have “no exemptions for positions they wish to hire,” adding that they were concerned with the law’s “unintended dangers.”
The repeal comes as the nation debates religious freedom, the rights of business owners and LGBT rights. Pressure began mounting several weeks ago after Indiana Gov. Mike Pence signed a bill granting far-reaching freedoms for religious beliefs, protecting those who say their beliefs forbid them from serving same-sex couples.
The measure triggered immediate backlash as civil rights advocates called the religious freedom law discriminatory against gays and lesbians. By early last week, Pence was faced with a torrent of canceled convention bookings, stalled construction plans and the specter of business leaving the state just as the NCAA’s Final Four was about to start in Indianapolis.
An amendment was quickly approved by the Indiana Legislature and Pence signed the revised bill that offered some protections from discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
In Springfield’s case, however, supporters of the repeal said the anti-discrimination protections opened the door for sexual predators in public spaces.
“It gives anyone claiming to be transgender the right to choose which public locker room, dressing room, bathroom, or other previously gender specific area they wish to use,” the Yes on Question 1 campaign wrote on its website.
The campaign insisted it was not likening transgender people to sexual predators, arguing that “sexual predators, usually heterosexual, can and will use this ordinance to pretend to be transgender in order to access women’s locker rooms, dressing rooms, bathrooms, women’s shelters, and other private areas.”
The ACLU of Missouri said it would continue to advocate for a state law protecting the LGBT community. Marty Rouse, national field director for the Human Rights Campaign, called Tuesday’s vote “disappointing.”
“Everyone in Springfield, including LGBT people, should be able to live, work, and care for their family without fear of discrimination,” Rouse said in a statement. “We’re committed to ensuring that equality will ultimately prevail in Springfield and throughout the state of Missouri.”
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