Roeland Park residents Monday night provided clearly differing views on whether discrimination protections for sexual orientation and gender identity should be added to city business regulation ordinances.
Those opposed to adding the protections often questioned why the additions are needed and asked if any discrimination had been reported in the city. They also posed questions around enforcement and how churches might be affected if they lease space to the general public.
Towards the end of the evening, speakers emerged who strongly backed the proposed ordinance. Nancy Beckmann, a Roeland Park resident for 25 years, said her gay son was bullied and assaulted in schools. “To assume discrimination does not exist here is wrong,” she said. “We feel we should strive to create a community that is based on the principles of equality and solidarity, that understands and values human rights, and that recognizes the dignity of every human being ….”
Elizabeth Anderson, attending with her sons, said she it was only her second time to declare at a city forum that she is LGBT. “I am invisible. We are not looking for special treatment, only for equal treatment.” Another proponent said, “This is a human right we are talking about. In Roeland Park, everybody counts.”
Opponents of adding the protections included former mayor Adrienne Foster, who spoke against it twice, saying she had not found one instance “where there has been discrimination in the workplace.” Foster also suggested the protections should be a federal issue, comparing it to immigration. Former councilor and mayoral candidate Linda Mau also opposed the ordinance. “We have so many other pressing issues,” she said.
Another former mayor, Steve Petrehn, though, said that in every gymnasium and playground most “kids feel the sting of discrimination,” adding “we are a city of educated people.” When people ask why Roeland Park, he said, “this is what is in our hearts – to be thought leaders.”
Exempted from the ordinance are churches, libraries, schools, as well as retail and home-based businesses with fewer than four employees and landlords with fewer than four rental units. The proposed ordinance would protect against discrimination in employment, housing and offering goods and services.
Some speakers questioned the remedy and cost of resolving complaints under the ordinance and suggested “freedom of religion” was being infringed upon if churches that lease space to the general public are not exempt for those specific transactions that are outside of service to the congregation.
Speakers first were allowed to ask questions and make comments about the proposal to a panel which included Sandra Meade from Equality Kansas, Robert Nolan from the Kansas Family Policy Council which is associated with Focus on the Family, Carl Edwards of the Lawrence Human Relations Committee, Mayor Joel Marquardt, and Todd LaSalla, who was sitting in for the city attorney.
Meade and Nolan often offered different views on the ordinance. Equality Kansas helped draft the current proposal and advocates for anti-discrimination measures across the state. Nolan opposed the added protections on several points.
The council is not expected to vote on the ordinance until at least May 19. It has heard testimony at previous sessions on the proposal and was provided with background information in the packet for a committee meeting last week.
More than a dozen speakers often were in line Monday night waiting for a turn at the microphone.