Mission residents came out Wednesday night in overwhelming support of a nondiscrimination ordinance to extend legal protections to their LGBTQ neighbors and city employees.
Councilmember Sollie Flora introduced the ordinance that would make discrimination against a number of classifications, including LGBTQ individuals, illegal. LGBTQ residents and city employees are not currently given legal protection from discrimination under state or federal law.
The ordinance is reflective of the city’s values, Flora said Wednesday.
“Mission prides itself on its reputation as a close-knit but welcoming community; this should include our LGBT residents and employees,” Flora said, adding that, nonetheless, the city is “not immune to anti-LGBT sentiment and discrimination.”
The ordinance is nearly identical to an ordinance that passed in Roeland Park four years ago. Roeland Park councilmember Jen Hill told the Mission officials that her city has had no issues since adopting the policy. Prairie Village councilmembers will discuss a similar ordinance Oct. 15 after its initial discussion was delayed by a lack of quorum in September.
Councilmembers dig into details, Mission residents speak in support
Councilmember Pat Quinn at first questioned the need for the ordinance because he believes Mission is already welcoming to LGBTQ residents. Flora and councilmember Hillary Parker Thomas said the ordinance is designed to be “proactive” and send a clear message that LGBTQ residents should be protected under city code. Quinn later said he was more convinced of the need to pass the ordinance.
Councilmember Nick Schlossmacher said it’s important for the city to obtain legal guidance and “iron out some of the details,” especially regarding enforcement.
Councilmembers heard public comment from nine Mission residents as well as a few non-residents following Flora’s introduction of the ordinance at the finance and administration meeting Wednesday.
Mission resident Andy Sandler, who is active in Johnson County Democratic politics, said the policy is proactive just like installing a smoke detector before someone dies in a fire. Furthermore, he believes it ensures his LGBTQ neighbors the same unalienable right to pursue happiness.
“Discrimination does happen; we don’t need to have it happen here,” Sandler said. “We can be one of the growing number of cities both in Kansas and in the rest of the country who says, ‘Hate has no home in our hometown.’”
Michael Nay, a gay Mission resident, said that without the ordinance, he second-guesses sharing that part of his personal life.
“Do I truly reveal those aspects of my personal life that many heterosexual people are able to share without a second thought?” he asked the council rhetorically. “I think passing an ordinance such as this would convey a message that you can be your full self while in this city.”
Religious issues, effects on business community brought into focus
Two people spoke in opposition of the ordinance Wednesday: state Sen. Mary Pilcher-Cook, who represents parts of Shawnee, Merriam and Overland Park; and Eric Teetsel, president of Family Policy Alliance of Kansas. Both cited religious freedom of businessowners as critical for the Mission council to support.
Pilcher-Cook said she opposes the ordinance because she thinks it doesn’t provide uniform legal protection for all Mission residents and businessowners.
“I think this proposal has good intentions, but it will be detrimental to religious liberty and harmful to the economic growth for the businesses in this community,” she said. “It will instead cause unjust discrimination where none existed before.”
Pilcher-Cook added that the classes added to the ordinance — sexual orientation and gender identity — are behaviors, “not immutable characteristics like the rest of the protections are.”
Teetsel said the ordinance could be divisive.
“Please consider the human person made in the image and likeness of God,” she said.
“It brings disunity where there is unity,” Teetsel said. “The ordinance unnecessarily divides friends and neighbors along hotly contested ideological lines.”
But residents and Mission business owners pushed back on those assertions.
Alex Welch, a Mission resident who calls herself “a lifelong devout Christian,” said she did not feel ordinance doesn’t infringe upon her beliefs. Furthermore, she thinks firing an LGBTQ employee or evicting an LGBTQ tenant is not a religious practice.
“This ordinance would (do) nothing to negatively impact a Christian landlord or a Christian businessowner who has concerns with the LGBT community,” Welch said. “It does not seek to shut down their businesses or force them to take their house off the market; it simply asks that they give everyone a fair shot.”
Kevin Fullerton, a Mission resident, downtown businessowner and president of the Mission Business Partnership, said he understands the subject is emotional for many people. He added that he thinks passing the ordinance will help businesses, not harm them.
“If we weren’t to pass something like this, I would have trouble selling this city (to future businessowners),” Fullerton said. “For me, discrimination’s that red line; we don’t cross it.”