4 min read
Posted on 09.17.11
  • 4 min read
  • Posted on 09.17.11

Mayor's remarks at the Human Rights Campaign Gala:

It is my pleasure and honor to be here. And by "here" I mean here with all of you, who are, in many ways, the vanguard of the new city that St. Louis is becoming.

It is a common part of the general commentary about St. Louis to note that the City's population has declined since the 1950s. All sorts of reasons - race, poverty, the competing appeal of a suburban lifestyle, schools - have been offered for the exodus. You likely have your own theories. I have mine.

At the end of day, the theories don't matter that much. We are where we find ourselves today - and that is the fact that is most urgent.

I was elected mayor in 2001, and with children of my own approaching the age group, I was determined to see if the loss of young people who attended college in St. Louis could be halted or reversed. No city can thrive without being able to attract and retain its young people, particularly those with college and post-graduate degrees.

I determined to keep that demographic in mind every time I had the chance to influence a policy decision. Walkable streets, Complete Streets, reliable and affordable public transportation, bicycle infrastructure, public art, entertainment districts, bookstores, the humane treatment of animals, doggy dining, urban farming, proud gayborhoods (like Marine Villa, Benton Park, Compton Heights, Shaw, and the Tower Groves), charter schools, Teach for America, hiring younger staffers, citywide recycling, the East Loop, the Vanguard Cabinet, City Hall using social media, food trucks, clubs and restaurants, mid-Century modern architecture that looks like flying saucers - these are all discussions, decisions, or policies that I consciously considered to change some minds about being and staying in St. Louis.

It is not my intention tonight to imply that St. Louis officials - or I - have done everything right or that we have done enough of everything that we could do. I do, however, want to argue that we have changed St. Louis. This is not the same city with the same sort of thinking that it was in 1960 or in 1990 or in 2000. And, whether anybody but young people has noticed or not, St. Louis is now a city that attracts and retains young people and the college-educated. The numbers bear this out.

Now, let me give you some other numbers.

There were an estimated 6-point-5 million unmarried-partner households in the United States in 2009. Of this number, 581,300 were same-sex households.

I know that I am standing in front of the audience that best knows that Missouri has done almost everything in its power to make same-sex households unwelcome in the state.

It has been my goal as mayor, by action, word, and example, to make the City of St. Louis an exception to the wider state's repression.I have stood with the lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, and transgender communities at a variety of highly public forums to make the point that you do not stand alone. And many of the policies that are making us a younger and better educated city are making us a gayer city, as well.

The City of St. Louis is itself a gay-friendly employer and our personnel and benefits programs reflect that. I have personally worked with public safety officials to ensure a greater cultural sensitivity within the community and a more urgent understanding of hate crimes, including those in the Grove entertainment district.

I think it is important to note that the vast majority of City residents agree with this agenda. Alone in the state, the voters of the City of St. Louis have rejected a petty and hateful constitutional amendment that reinforces the state's marriage laws. The Pride celebration in the City of St. Louis is one of the most vibrant in the nation. The No-Hate/No On Eight campaign drew the support of City residents and City leaders alike. (My own No Hate picture, with duct tape, is on my website.) And, finally, when I publicly called for statewide recognition of civil unions earlier this year, the only dissenting call I received from a city resident was from one of my own siblings, who wanted to know why we had to stop at civil unions.

The result is that, today, St. Louis, the 58th largest city in the country, ranks a very respectable - and welcoming - 11th among large cities in the number of same-sex couples per 1,000 households.

Again, this is not to say that we have done everything - or done everything well. Younger and older members of the LGBT community need attention. "Coming out" remains difficult and school bullying is too commonplace. Police and prosecutors need more initiatives and training to identify and prosecute hate crimes. The community's health needs more education and resources. And the death of a partner can still add financial challenges to same-sex widows or widowers who are without legal protections to their moral and financial rights as survivors.These are things that are on your agenda and mine. And they are not impossible to achieve.

Too often in the past, we have been held back from making big social changes because we overestimated the opposition or under-appreciated the underlying culture of Midwestern tolerance. Events like tonight's are evidence of our solidarity as a city. And it is an encouragement to continue to grow together.

As we go forward, please remember that the only course of action that guarantees failure is never beginning. We live in an open-hearted city that has changed for the better. Together, let us work to change it even more.

Thank you. And God bless us all.