In St. Joseph, local GOP pressured lawmakers to block approval of gay library board member
The Buchanan County party leader threatened not to allow city council members to run as Republicans if they approved the appointment of a gay pastor to the city’s library board. The controversy has created a push for broader change in St. Joseph.
The head of the Republican party in Buchanan County threatened the political futures of the St. Joseph City Council if they approved the reappointment of a gay pastor to the city’s public library board.
On August 4, Steven Greiert, chair of the Buchanan County Republican Central Committee, sent an email to the mayor and city council saying that if Brian Kirk’s position on the library board was renewed, the Republican party would refuse to accept filing fees from members of the City Council if they sought to run as Republicans in future races for other positions.
The renomination of Kirk, a pastor at First Christian Church and a volunteer member of the public library board, has continued to be controversial since members of the conservative Grace Calvary Chapel began criticizing his support of LGBTQ+ rights and pushing for his removal earlier this summer.
The St. Joseph City Council has since nominated three people to serve on the volunteer library board, which oversees financial and administrative matters and does not have any influence on materials or events at the St. Joseph Public Library. Kirk did not make the cut. The council will take a final vote on the board appointments Monday. Both supporters and critics of Kirk plan to protest outside City Hall.
"A culture war"
The appointment of library board members is usually a routine affair, but Kirk’s candidacy has drawn hundreds of calls and emails from residents, said St. Joseph Mayor John Josendale.
Greiert’s message, obtained through a public records request and provided to KCUR, was just one of them. In the email, Greiert suggested that Josendale remove people who support LGBTQ+ rights and instead appoint “all new people, who would equally represent both sides of the issue on transgenderism and drag-queen shows and literature in the library.”
Greiert said that the mayor and most of the City Council had run campaigns based on conservative values and had asked for support from Republicans.
“You and the other City Council members can always run as Democrats, Independents, Libertarians, or pedestrians or anything else without our approval,” said Greiert. “But you will need our endorsement before you can run as Republicans for anything anywhere.”
“If you choose to renew the appointment of Pastor Kirk and the continuation of the left-leaning majority that has existed on that Board for a long time, then we will know whom to hold accountable and whom we can no longer trust to lead the city,” Greiert wrote.
The St. Joseph mayor and city council seats are nonpartisan positions. Greiert did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
Josendale told KCUR he identifies as an independent. He said Greiert’s letter did not influence his library board nominations and he was not worried about it impacting his future political career.
“I am not at all concerned about that,” Josendale said. “And I will emphasize that to the N-th degree.”
Deputy Mayor Randy Schultz, an at-large member of the city council, said he was a registered Republican who supported Kirk’s nomination, but was not concerned about Greiert’s letter.
“I feel I've done nothing wrong and I've supported a person that is a good choice for the library board,” Schultz said.
Schultz and Josendale were the only St. Joseph City Council members to rank Kirk as among their preferred candidates for the library board. Three other candidates, Harriet Gordon, Johnt Slayden and LaTonya Williams, received the highest rankings and will proceed to the final approval vote on Monday.
The seven other members of the City Council did not respond to emails or phone calls requesting comment.
In an email to City Council member Andy Trout on June 20, Greiert urged Trout not to approve Kirk to the board. The email was obtained through a public records request and provided to KCUR.
“This transgender and homosexual propaganda is pure evil,” Greiert wrote. “It is designed to destroy the family, to undercut traditional American values and our way of life, and ultimately institute governmental control that will undermine our city, county, state, and nation.”
In response, Trout wrote: “I absolutely agree! Good news is that John pulled the nomination!”
These emails have alarmed activists who have rallied in support of Kirk, said St. Joseph resident RJ Jackson, who is filming a documentary about the controversy.
Jackson says the issue has ignited the fervor of progressive citizens in St. Joseph. He sees the opposition to Kirk and LGBTQ+ issues as symptomatic of a nationwide push to insert conservative Christian values into government.
“People are really starting to wake up to the fact that there's a culture war happening nationwide and now it's actually spread into our own backyard,” said RJ Jackson. “We're living in basically another Satanic Panic.”
A potential solution
Through it all, Kirk has felt that the criticism of him, and the fact that his board position has not been renewed, are the result of anti-gay discrimination. He and other community members are now pushing the city to extend its nondiscrimination ordinance to volunteers who serve on city commissions and boards.
Sean Connors, the volunteer head of the city’s Human Rights Commission, said he had filed a request for mediation with the city on Kirk's behalf, but the city had declined it because Kirk is not an employee and because Connors was not personally discriminated against.
“This nondiscrimination ordinance does not have any teeth,” said Connors, who is a gay man. “I am an injured party because this could have happened to me as a city commissioner.”
Connors said he hasn’t seen any other evidence of discrimination against volunteer members of city commissions and boards, but he is concerned that this controversy could limit citizens’ willingness to participate in government.
The mayor said he did not feel that Kirk had experienced discrimination because he was not renominated to the library board.
“Brian had done a good job on the library board when he was there. But again, when you look at boards,” Josendale said, “a lot of people are looking to see how things can be done differently.”
People who support Kirk and support extending the nondiscrimination ordinance will rally at St. Joseph City Hall on Monday evening during the city council meeting. Supporters of Grace Calvary Church, which initiated the criticism of Kirk, will hold a counter protest.
Despite the turmoil over the past few weeks, Kirk said he feels affirmed by all the community support he has received.
“Though it's a small community, it's a rather libertarian community where we respect differences,” Kirk said. “We sort of have a live and let live philosophy here. And although that's been tested over the last several months, I think it still holds true that we are a community that tries to be as welcoming as we can be.”