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JEFFERSON CITY - Over 100 lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) and allied advocates participated in PROMO's annual Equality Day at the Missouri State Capitol on Wednesday. 
 
During the event, equality supporters met with and urged elected officials to support legislation protecting Missourians from discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodation, as well as safeguarding all youth from bullying in schools by giving school districts local authority to develop their own anti-bullying policies.
 
Introduced since 1998, The Missouri Nondiscrimination Act or MONA, would add sexual orientation and gender identity to Missouri’s Human Rights Statute, which already protects other categories, including race, biological sex and familial status. 
 
The Senate Progress and Development Committee heard testimony on the legislation (SB 237) in February and passed it out of committee last week. The companion bill (HB 407) in the House was heard by the Civil and Criminal Proceedings Committee on April 15 where it remains. 
 
At a morning rally on the Capitol lawn, advocates put pressure on Missouri House Speaker John Diehl to schedule a committee vote by chanting  "Pass MONA, What's the Deal" and taking their message to social media using the hashtag #WhatsTheDiehl. 
 
"Republican leadership has even said to us that we have the votes," said A.J. Bockelman, Executive Director of PROMO, Missouri's statewide LGBT advocacy organization. "It's now a matter of getting them to actually take the vote and get a clean vote on this that doesn't have additional amendments on a stand alone nondiscrimination bill." 
 
"Some people just don't want this bill to come up for a vote and they are trying to stop it in different ways," said Bockelman, who sees a window for movement in the coming month. "Currently, we believe the Speaker of the House is holding up some of the effort to get this on the floor." 
 
In 2013, MONA passed through the Senate but failed to reach the House floor. The legislation enjoys bipartisan support. 
 
"We need to get more of our right wing colleagues to understand that if they are right wing and fundamentally conservative Christians then they should be all for nondiscrimination," said Rep. Kevin Engler (R-Farmington). "Because in the New Testament there is not a place they can cite where it's okay to persecute people."
 
“Discrimination is wrong,” explained Rep. Stephen Webber (D-Columbia), who introduced the bill. “When we find it, we should stop it. When the state allows that, we should fix it.”
 
Organizers describe Equality Day as a unique opportunity to give a voice to the stories that have changed LGBT lives  and can continue to change the lives of others. 
 
"Every year we try to get it a bit further," offered Bockelman. "Going back eight years, we didn't have hearings. We tracked progress for a number of years by how many bill sponsors there were, because that was the only progress we made."
 
"Then we started to get hearings on the bills, we started to get votes out of committee and  two years ago we had it pass in the Senate," said Bockelman "Now it's a matter of replicating all of those things in a single year and we're close - even in a Republican controlled chamber - because people have come out and told their stories and made a difference."
 
Also held in conjunction with Equality Day was a roundtable discussion with Rep. Tracy McCreery (D-St. Louis) on issues surrounding transgender health care in Missouri. 
 
The Missouri Legislative session ends on May 15.  
 
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