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Experts: Leadership key to changing anti-gay police culture

FILE - In this Oct. 24, 2019 file photo, St. Louis County police Sgt. Keith Wildhaber returns from lunch break to the St. Louis County courthouse on the third day of his discrimination case against the county in Clayton, Mo.St. Louis County leaders are working to address the culture of the police department following last month's jury verdict awarding $20 million to Sgt. Keith Wildhaber, who alleged he was discriminated against because he is gay. Experts say many departments across the U.S. are working to be more inclusive and are increasingly reaching out to the LGBTQ community. Some, including departments in San Jose, California, and Memphis, Tennessee, are seeking to recruit gay and lesbian officers. (Cristina M. Fletes/St. Louis Post-Dispatch via AP, File)

CLAYTON — Two civil rights groups on Monday blasted St. Louis County for taking a “hypocritical” and “shameful” legal stance in a discrimination case despite comments from the county executive that denounced the strategy.

In a 63-page motion, the lawyers used the same legal argument that had upset County Executive Sam Page and County Counselor Beth Orwick: that it is legal to discriminate against gay people in Missouri.

In a joint statement, the civil rights groups wrote that “the Missouri Human Rights Act already prohibits discrimination based on sex. As our state Supreme Court recognized earlier this year, discrimination based on sex may manifest itself by discriminating against a man because he is gay. Pretending that Missouri law excuses this discrimination, suggesting that the jury was too confused to render a legitimate verdict, and continuing to claim that there were other, good reasons to discriminate against Wildhaber is part and parcel of the same package: a failure to insist that St. Louis County respect the dignity and equality of members of the LGBTQ community.”

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Page's chief of staff, Winston Calvert, responded in a statement: “We agree with PROMO and the ACLU that discrimination based sexual orientation and gender identity must be outlawed. And PROMO and the ACLU seem to agree with the County that it isn’t. The County does not want to be in the position of protecting its solvency and its insurance coverage by having to appeal a $20 million award relying on a deficiency of state law. But we have to be. And, though the appeal is ours, the actions that resulted in the award predate the current administration.”

Read the coverage of the Wildhaber suit, trial and decisions after the verdict

County leaders call the Wildhaber suit, trial and verdict 'wake-up call.'

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