JC Human Relations Commission Chairman Mitchell W. Woodrum breaks down the city’s Municipality Equality Index.
The conversation started with a late-nightphone call from Mayor Carrie Tergin after some unfortunate events happened in our local school district. I knew we could do better as a community, and I knew education was the way to start that change. We both discussed numerous issues the city had dealt with and ways we could make our city an even better place to live. This started with making sure every citizen felt welcome.
After much discussion, we brought up the idea of bringing the Human Relations Commission back to life with a focus on education and hosting events that fostered honest and open conversations between our citizens. Once I had the full support of the mayor, I turned to the city council. Over the next six months, I talked to most of the members, explaining why this commission had to be brought back. Truly caring about the people of this city, each city council member agreed, and the Jefferson City Human Relations Commission started up again in January 2018. Since then, we have been involved in and hosted numerous events to serve our community.
One of our many initiatives was the Human Rights Campaign’s Municipality Equality Index, which I knew very little about until we revived this commission. We quickly educated ourselves on this scorecard and set out for improvement.
Breakdown of the MEI Index & Jefferson City
The MEI measures the ways in which cities support the LGBTQ people who live and work in the community. The index is split into five categories: non-discrimination laws, municipality as an employer, municipal services, law enforcement, and leadership on LGBTQ equality. These five categories are then subdivided into smaller categories that award points for each subcategory when certain standards are met. The total maximum points for a city is 100 points.
In 2017, the city scored zero because it failed to complete the survey. With the support of the mayor and city council, failing to complete the survey was rectified with the revitalization of the Jefferson City Human Relations Commission, which actively sought to increase the City of Jefferson’s Score. In 2018, the city scored 20 points, and in 2019, we scored 31 points, marking significant improvement in our score each year.
The single category that Jefferson City has repeatedly scored a zero in is nondiscrimination laws. This category allows for points to be awarded for laws protecting against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity relating to employment, housing, and public accommodations in the city, county, or state. In all of those categories, nondiscrimination laws do not currently exist.
Improving the City’s MEI
The Human Relations Commission recently worked closely with Jefferson City’s director of human resources to ensure the MEI was filled out accurately, ensuring that we communicated the correct information in all categories. In April 2020, the Jefferson City Human Relations commission proposed a change to expand the city’s personnel policy manual to include protections for sexual orientation and gender identity in both the equal employment opportunity (3-1) and discrimination and sexual harassment (20-2) sections. The proposed expansion passed unanimously by the council, a huge win for LGBTQ citizens and employees of the city. This expansion will also increase our score by seven points on the index, and the Jefferson City HRC sees this as a stepping stone to citywide nondiscrimination laws.
“We strive to make our great city an all-inclusive and safe community for all citizens.”Mitchell W. Woodrum
The City of Jefferson, Cole County,
and the state of Missouri all currently lack nondiscrimination laws specifically protecting Missourians from sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination in employment, housing, and public accommodations. As for the state-wide nondiscrimination laws, the Missouri Nondiscrimination Act, or MONA, has been introduced for more than 20 years and has repeatedly not been taken up by the state legislature. Locally, the city currently possesses a housing discrimination policy; however, that policy does not include sexual orientation and gender identity.
One of the many goals of the HRC is to expand the work we have accomplished with the city’s personnel policy manual that now includes protections for sexual orientation and gender identity by making these policies a citywide ordinance. This would make the City of Jefferson a more inclusive and welcoming community where all citizens are treated equally regardless of who they love and how they identify. The MEI is part of the many efforts the commission is making to improve Jefferson City. We strive to make our great city an all-inclusive and safe community for all citizens. It’s our diversity that makes us stronger.
Follow the Human Relations Commission’s efforts through facebook.com/JeffersonCityHumanRelationsCommission
Mitchell W. Woodrum is the chairman of the Human Relations Commission, president of Capitol City Cinema, and serves on several other boards and commissions. He is a commander in the Army National Guard and works full time as the budget officer for the Department of Logistics.