A group of Springfield business leaders says voting not to repeal the city’s non-discrimination law next month means preserving and growing a strong business climate.
Roughly two dozen business owners and citizens gathered on the City Hall steps Thursday afternoon to express their opposition for the ballot measure as part of the No Repeal campaign. Tim Rosenbury is a business owner and past chairman of the Springfield Area Chamber of Commerce.
“If Springfield repeals this ordinance, we will become known as a city that chose to exclude a segment of our population. And that is the wrong message,” he said.
The question before voters on April 7 is whether to repeal the city’s non-discrimination ordinance. The measure was amended last fall by City Council to expand protections on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity in the areas of housing, employment and public accommodations.
A "no" vote keeps the ordinance and a "yes" vote repeals it.
James Martin, owner of Gilardi’s Ristorante, says the upcoming election allows Springfield to “step into the 21st Century” and to vote against discrimination.
“Because discrimination does not happen with a fire hose or dogs does not mean it’s not wrong. There’s a point at which we will stand up and look in the mirror and say ‘We did stand up for something today,’” Martin said.
“We’re fighting a battle where we’re dealing with perception on one side and reality on another,” Morrow said.
Calvin Morrow is a spokesperson for the Yes on Question 1 committee, and one of the architects in putting the measure before voters. Last year, shortly after council voted 6-3 to approve the non-discrimination law, Morrow helped gather enough referendum petition signatures to send the issue back to council. City Council then had three options: to repeal the ordinance, send it to voters or take no action. They chose to table it for 30 days, effectively taking no action, and the measure was automatically sent to the voters to decide.
“The discrimination, the idea, the notion that Springfield is unwelcoming – there is no data to support that. It’s just an assertion,” Morrow said. “So we’re really dealing with a situation where the net effect is that the church and Christian people are under siege by something that has not happened since the Jim Crow laws of the 1960s.”
Jim Michels, the owner of Creative Foundry, had no issue with the opposition’s argument concerning religious beliefs.
“But in the secular world, in the business world, it makes no sense to exclude talented individuals because of their gender identity,” Michels said.
A.J. Hackworth says she’s a lesbian and was discriminated against at a former job, forcing her to leave early because she feared for her safety. Now, Hackworth is happy to be employed by a business that provides her non-discrimination protections. But she notes that is not that way for everyone.
“If Springfield chooses to repeal, what it’s telling me is that it’s not okay for me to be here. That it’s okay to discriminate against me.”
No Repeal group officials say Springfield City Council made an important step forward when it extended protections for LGBT persons last year, and in order to continue that momentum they’re asking citizens to vote no on April 7.
The No Repeal campaign provided a list of nearly 120 businesses that have so far said they want to keep the ordinance in place.
Calvin Morrow with the Yes on Question 1 Committee says its group has also gathered a lot of support, mainly through the faith community. He says the organization will begin to be more visible following its campaign kickoff, scheduled for Saturday at 9:30 a.m. at the Ramada Oasis.
The official ballot language found through the Greene County Clerk’s website is as follows:
"Shall the City of Springfield, Missouri, repeal General Ordinance No. 6141, adopted by City Council on the October 13, 2014 that amended Chapter 2, Administration, Article IV, Boards, Commissions and Committees, Division 4, Mayor's Commission on Human Rights and Community Relations, Section 2-223; and Chapter 62, Human Rights, to add sexual orientation and gender identity to the list of categories of persons protected from discrimination, to consolidate the Commission's investigation process into a single division of the Code, and to clarify the Commission's powers in light of recent court decisions; and readopt the City's prior Code of Ordinances regulating Chapter 2, Administration, Article IV, Boards, Commissions, and Committees, Division 4, Mayor's Commission on Human Rights and Community Relations; and Chapter 62, Human Rights?"