LGBTQ champion applauds Missouri court rulings

Elizabeth Schlesinger serves as co-chair of the National Board of Governors for the Human Rights Campaign, an LGBTQ civil rights organization.

By Eric Berger, Associate Editor

This story is part of our “36 and Under” series, which highlights interesting Jews age 36 and under who either live in St. Louis or have spent a significant amount of time here. If you would like to recommend someone for this intermittent feature, email [email protected].

Last week, the Missouri Supreme Court issued a pair of rulings that expanded legal protections to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. 

Among those applauding the decisions was Elizabeth Schlesinger, 36, a local lawyer who is co-chair of the National Board of Governors for the Human Rights Campaign, an organization that advocates for protections for LGBTQ people. 

“While we’re happy when our cause wins in court, we would be happier with full nondiscrimination protections and fair and equal treatment,” said Schlesinger, who is Jewish and a member of United Hebrew Congregation. 

In addition to working in estate planning at Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner, Schlesinger has dedicated much of her time to fighting discrimination at the state and national level. 

In 2016, she was recognized as a Distinguished Gala Leader at the HRC’s Leadership Awards.

Schlesinger has focused on the cause, she said, because Missouri is one of 29 states that do not offer full protections against discrimination based on sexual identity or gender orientation, according to the Movement Advancement Project, a think tank focused on equality.

“The political climate in Missouri is a real challenge for LGBT folks, and I knew if I was going to live and work here, I wanted to be part of making it a little better for me and other members of the community,” said Schlesinger, who is gay. 

The Missouri Human Rights Act prohibits discrimination in housing, employment and places of public accommodations based on race, color, religion, national origin, ancestry, sex, disability, age (in employment only) and familial status, but not sexual identity or gender orientation. 

On Feb. 27, the Supreme Court ruled in one case that Missouri law prohibits discrimination on the basis of a worker’s failure to conform to sex-based stereotypes, according to The Associated Press. A former state employee who filed the lawsuit alleged that he was harassed at work because he is gay and exhibited “nonstereotypical” male behaviors and then was retaliated against when he complained. 

In the second case, the court ruled in favor of a transgender student who sued his Missouri school district because he was not allowed to use boys’ restrooms and locker rooms, the AP reported.

“It’s impossible to celebrate these legal victories without acknowledging the real harm the plaintiffs experienced, and their bravery in bringing these claims,” Schlesinger said. 

She also would like to see those protections passed through legislation.

Through HRC, Schlesinger is advocating for a federal bill, the Equality Act, which would amend civil rights laws to include sexual orientation and gender identity. At the state level, Rep. Greg Razer, a Democrat from Kansas City, tried and failed to pass a measure that would have added anti-discrimination protections to LGBTQ House employees. 

Gov. Mike Parson, a Republican, recently said of legislation that would ban such discrimination, “My views are different than some, but at the end of the day, if somebody’s working and they’re a good worker, then I don’t think they should be discriminated against.”

On whether she has experienced discrimination because she is gay, Schlesinger said, “I feel incredibly fortunate to have been surrounded by people who are inclusive and be part of institutions that have as part of their policy and values that they will be inclusive of LGBTQ folks.”

But, she explained, “It’s definitely due to the privilege I carry as a white person, as a cis-gender person (whose gender identity matches the sex he/she were assigned at birth), as someone with an excellent education and this type of career that I can keep myself mostly in spaces where I am protected, but a lot of folks in our community don’t have those opportunities, and you shouldn’t have to rely on the policies of your employer or the protection of your municipality to be safe.”

In addition to her volunteer work with HRC and PROMO, Schlesinger recently joined the UH Board of Trustees. 

“At the beginning, I’m just hoping to learn more about how the synagogue runs and what its needs are, and I think the opportunity for my impact will reveal itself,” she said.

That will include reading the synagogue’s announcements on Friday nights.

“I’m really excited to be getting more involved,” she said.