Metro Weekly

Columbia, Missouri, Declares Itself an LGBTQ “Sanctuary City”

The city of Columbia has approved a sanctuary ordinance that urges law enforcement to deprioritize enforcing any anti-LGBTQ state laws.

The flag of Columbia, Missouri – Photo: Liskonogaleksey / Dreamstime

Columbia, Missouri, has declared itself a sanctuary city for LGBTQ residents, potentially setting up a future fight with Republican state officials who have prioritized measures to restrict LGBTQ rights and visibility.

Last week, following three hours of public comment and a half-hour of debate, the Columbia City Council voted 6-1 to amend its sanctuary city ordinance to provide protections for LGBTQ individuals, according to the Columbia Daily Tribune.

Under the language of the amended ordinance, law enforcement is expected either not to pursue charges, or deprioritize the enforcement of, any laws imposing criminal or civil penalties against individuals who seek out or assist others in obtaining gender-affirming care.

This is in direct reference to Missouri’s law prohibiting minors from accessing such treatments, which Republican Gov. Mike Parson signed into law last year.

That law also prohibits adult Medicaid recipients from having the cost of any transition-related procedures covered, meaning they must pay for such services out of pocket.

Authorities are also encouraged to deprioritize arresting, detaining, or transferring individuals to other states for seeking out gender-affirming care for themselves or their children, in violation of their own state’s laws.

Missouri Attorney General Andrew Bailey has been dogged in his insistence that the ban on health care for transgender minors be enforced, even demanding that local police, especially in Kansas City and St. Louis, arrest individuals for violating it. This is despite the fact that the law only imposes civil, and not criminal, penalties. 

Additional amendments to the ordinance deprioritize the enforcement of penalties against people who use public bathrooms that don’t match their assigned sex at birth. Another provision in the bill deprioritizes any enforcement of efforts to prohibit drag performances in public.

The ordinance also states that the city will not take “affirmative steps” to gather or disseminate information on an individual’s assigned sex at birth, and will not require disclosure of one’s assigned sex at birth to receive benefits, employment, or city services. 

City officials have argued that the ordinance does not prohibit the city from following state law, but simply makes enforcement of anti-LGBTQ laws the lowest priority for law enforcement officers.

Kansas City adopted a similar resolution in May 2023. 

At the meeting last week, a majority of those offering public comment supported the ordinance, with some arguing it is necessary to protect LGBTQ individuals from being targeted by law enforcement for attempting to live as their true selves.

“The queer community is already a minority community in the United States so having our voices heard, that recognition, that safety that makes us feel protected is really important. It’s essential,” said Anthony Plogger, the co-founder of the LGBTQ group NClusion+.

Some dissenters pushed back, expressing concerns that the ordinance would prohibit them from expressing religious views opposing homosexuality. Others fretted that passing an ordinance might inspire backlash from legislators who approved the ban on transgender health care.

But others cited increasing violence against transgender individuals in schools and in public spaces as a concern, arguing that law enforcement should not further seek to criminalize or persecute transgender individuals.

“In July 2022, in Camden, Ohio, a young transgender man named Noah Ruiz was beaten by three cisgender men after using a woman’s restroom,” said a transgender man who spoke at the meeting. “The owner of the faculty had instructed him to use the woman’s room because he was assigned female at birth. Do you think his attackers let up when he explained he had a vagina? No, they called him homophobic slurs as they beat him.”

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