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Allies in Politics: Missouri State Rep. Stephen Webber

10 Years Ago

“There’s a lot of allies out there. This is a fight that we are winning.  The fight for equality is a fight that is destined to be won eventually.  From my perspective, the only question is how much pain and suffering does the intolerant inflict before they inevitably lose.”  – Missouri State Representative Stephen Webber (D-23)

I first heard about Missouri State Rep. Stephen Webber when I was researching the addition of gender identity to the Columbia, Missouri nondiscrimination ordinance.  A long time ally of the LGBT community, Rep. Webber’s support for the ordinance was highlighted by his comments at its passing, “The Columbia City Council took an important step forward tonight moving us closer to a society that judges people ‘by the content of their character’…This is a major victory for our city, one that hopefully the rest of the state and country emulates.” 

So when I had the opportunity to interview the representative of the 23rd district of Missouri, including the city of Columbia, I asked him about this, and what Missouri needs to do as a whole in order to catch up. “A lot of things,” was his first response.  Then Rep. Webber went on to add, “I’m frustrated because we just finished passing a bill that would REDUCE the protection against discrimination a lot of Missourians have.  This bill essentially allows a certain amount of discrimination to legally exist.  I find this unconscionable.  I was fighting that.”  Rep. Webber says that Governor Nixon will probably stop it, but it doesn’t stop there.

“Most people don’t realize, in Missouri, you can be fired for being gay or even the perception that you are gay.  You can be denied access to a restaurant.  You can be denied housing.  And there is no state law whatsoever that protects you, at all.  When most people find that out, they’re stunned.  I think most people think that the issue is about marriage equality, but in Missouri we’re giant steps behind that.”  A supporter of MONA (Missouri Nondiscrimination Act) for the past three years, Rep. Webber understands such legislation is vital if there is to be any step in the right direction.

As an Iraq War veteran, Rep. Webber also agrees with the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”   “We’re gonna see in the next couple of months there aren’t going to be any issues.  And I think a couple years from now we’re gonna look back and think it was silly that it even took this long.”  It is ironic the leader of the free world should be the last in the world to grant freedom.

As an Eagle Scout, the issue of the LGBT community in the Scout program is a frustrating one for Rep. Webber.  “I’m proud to be an Eagle Scout.  But I’m tremendously disappointed with Boy Scouts of America for the attitude they’ve taken on.”  In fact, an incident in the scouts is one of the earliest examples where Rep. Webber became aware of discrimination against LGBT individuals.  While in high school, Mr. Webber worked with a man, a fellow Eagle Scout and a member of the LGBT community, at a summer camp. “They just kicked him out.  It’s one of the most blatantly unfair things I’ve ever seen.  I think scouting is supposed to get people ready for life and to be good people.  And whether an individual is gay or a scout master is gay has nothing to do with how to be a good person.”

Speaking directly to the LGBT community, Rep. Webber reminds us, “Be engaged.”  At one point, Rep. Webber asked one of his good friends, and a member of the Columbia LGBT community, about his perspective.  Like most members of the LGBT community, his friend found no reason to engage the issue of discrimination because of a lack of personal experience.  Not wanting to get married at the moment, his friend found it better to let sleeping dogs lay.  Rep. Webber’s response to that was, “That’s fine, but one day you may want to.  And by the time you realize how it affects your life, whether your inheritance, or hospital visit, or marriage, or you meet somebody who’s not tolerant of who you are and your job is threatened, by that time it’s already too late.  We can’t let the victories we’ve had lead to complacency.”

In accord with his expectations of society, and with a firm foundation from his family, Rep. Stephen Webber strives to maintain his own sense of character – being honest, straight-forward, and standing up for justice when injustice raises its ugly head.  After having spoken with Rep. Webber, my take is history will judge his character as just that – just.

Missouri State Rep. Stephen Webber’s Official Site

© 2012 Joshua Randall