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Amid Pride-season controversy, Springfield City Council makes symbolic pro-LGBT statement

Springfield City Council chambers were packed as residents heard debate on a symbolic resolution in support of the LGBT community. Council passed the nonbinding statement 8-to-1 at the meeting on June 5, 2023.
Gregory Holman/KSMU
Springfield City Council chambers were packed as residents heard debate on a symbolic resolution in support of the LGBT community. Council passed the nonbinding statement 8-to-1 at the meeting on June 5, 2023.

The move comes eight years after city voters repealed an LGBT nondiscrimination ordinance passed by City Council in 2014.

This is a story about a symbolic pro-LGBT resolution passed by Springfield City Council on Monday night, but it begins three days earlier.

On Friday afternoon, Greene County’s top election official, Clerk Shane Schoeller, took to Facebook. The Republican posted a statement almost 1,000 words long airing criticism of the Ozarks Pridefest event set for June 10 in downtown Springfield. Schoeller told those who oppose what he sees as “woke” politics to “let your voice be heard."

Schoeller lamented that local government agencies are participating in Ozarks Pridefest. The City of Springfield told KSMU that it spent roughly $500 to rent a booth for the Springfield-Greene County Health Department as a matter of health outreach, and another booth for its HR department, for recruiting.

The Springfield-Greene County Library says it will have a Pridefest booth in front of its Park Central Square location. It paid no money to have the booth, a spokesperson says. Both the city and the public library told KSMU they aren’t “sponsors” of the pride festival. But the pride festival lists them as “Ally Sponsors” on its website.

Concerns about taxpayer funding and wedge politics

Gil Mobley is a Springfield medical doctor who identifies as a member of the LGBT community — and has long appreciated Schoeller, the elections official who wrote the long Facebook post. Mobley says he thinks it’s normal for agencies like the health department to have a booth at community festivals to promote goals like harm and risk reduction. The doctor also noted that Schoeller announced a run for Missouri Secretary of State back in February.

“That’s the most frightful thing about this," Mobley said, "is that it seems to mesh well with the, sad to say, the Republican primary electorate. And I’m sorry to say that I hope that’s not what is motivating Shane. I want to ask him: How did this come up? Who brought you against it? And who is having a problem with harm and risk reduction, not only to the LGBT community, but for all, the whole community?”

Ozarks Public Radio briefly interviewed Schoeller on Monday. He said his primary concern was that taxpayer funds were going to the pride festival. Schoeller, who works for Greene County, said he wasn’t aware of Springfield City Council’s LGBT resolution when he made his comments on Friday. KSMU also asked about Schoeller’s campaign.

“You’re running for Secretary of State," said an Ozarks Public Radio reporter. "Is this stirring up a wedge issue that will help you in that primary?"

Schoeller said, “That is not in any way pertinent to this conversation.”

The two-page resolution that went before City Council on Monday night was sponsored by four councilmembers: Monica Horton, Heather Hardinger, Craig Hosmer, and Brandon Jenson — meaning it only needed one additional vote to pass.

As it turned out, eight council members — everyone but General Councilman Derek Lee — voted for the resolution. Lee cited the divisiveness of LGBT topics and the presence of drag performers at the festival as reasons for his no vote. Mayor Ken McClure voted yes but said he “struggled” and prayed over the vote.

Council’s new resolution is a symbolic statement. It wouldn’t restore a 2014 ordinance that mandated equal treatment in public accommodations, job-hiring and housing for Springfield’s LGBT people. Citywide voters repealed that local law back in 2015.

But the resolution recognizes June as “LGBTQ+ Pride Month” in Springfield and mentions the contributions of LGBT Springfield people to the community. It also promotes the 2022 Mayor’s Initiative on Equity and Equality.

At packed chamber, most speakers were in favor of LGBT statement

Council chambers at Springfield City Hall were standing-room-only Monday night as 15 residents turned out to speak their minds on LGBT inclusion in front of a crowd. Two-thirds of speakers at the public hearing supported the resolution. Opponents included former Missouri Rep. Roy Holland, a Republican from Springfield, and Calvin Morrow, a Marshfield man who was a key activist in that 2015 campaign to repeal Springfield’s LGBT nondiscrimination ordinance. Morrow said he represented concerned pastors from the area.

"This resolution forces those with a biblically-based opinion on the topic of sex into the position of adversary," Morrow argued. "In other words, if this government formally affirms members of the LGBTQ community, then those outside of it are un-affirmed.”

Kyler Sherman-Wilkins, a gay man who is president of the GLO Center and a Missouri State University sociologist active in local public affairs, spoke in favor of the resolution.

"I will echo the comment that this is basic," he argued. "And I also want to remind just everyone listening that the LGBTQ community is under attack.”

No 'credible threats' to Pride festival, Springfield police say

Meanwhile, local social media on Monday were swirling with rumors about alleged security threats to Ozarks Pridefest. Police department spokesperson Cris Swaters told KSMU in a Monday afternoon text message that as of that time, Springfield Police Department had not “received any credible threats in regard to Saturday’s Pridefest event.”

Swaters said police had approved a security plan by Pridefest organizers that includes hiring off-duty Greene County Sheriff deputies.

Several extra police and contract security officers were stationed at Monday night’s Council meeting.

Gregory Holman is a KSMU reporter and editor focusing on public affairs.