Prairie Village council advances non-discrimination ordinance on 9-3 vote; measure will come before council for consideration of adoption Nov. 19

Jay Senter - October 16, 2018 11:35 am
Oscar Conway, president of the LGBT club at SM East, urged the council to approve the proposed non-discrimination ordinance.

A proposed ordinance that would provide legal protections from discrimination for LGBTQ+ individuals in Prairie Village passed its first hurdle Monday — but the measure has a long way to go before it could become law.

Before a standing-room only crowd in the council chambers, the council voted 9-3 to advance the non-discrimination ordinance brought forward by councilmen Tucker Poling and Chad Andrew Herring to the Nov. 19 meeting for consideration of adoption. The intervening month will be used by city staff and legal counsel to review the language of the ordinance as drafted and make suggestions for alterations.

Councilmemebers Serena Schermoly, Andrew Wang and Ted Odell were the three dissenting votes against advancing the ordinance. Wang and Odell had raised procedural questions throughout the evening, suggesting that the way the ordinance had been brought before the council did not follow typical protocol. Schermoly asked a number of questions prior to the vote about the cost of enforcement, and whether enacting the non-discrimination ordinance would infringe on the religious rights of residents and business owners.

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“On the religion side, I want to know if I have a gay couple who go into restaurant ‘A’…and the person who owns that restaurant, their religious beliefs do not feel that they can serve you, am I now voting against their religious right?” Schermoly said.

Though originally scheduled to come before the council last month, the introduction of the NDO was delayed to Monday after a lack of quorum forced the cancelation of the Sept. 17 meeting.

The vote came after nearly three hours of public comments and council discussion. More than two dozen residents, elected officials and advocacy group representatives made comments before the council, with the vast majority showing their support for the measure.

Oscar Conway, president of the LGBT club at Shawnee Mission East, told the council that the passage of the NDO would be a meaningful signal to LGBT youth in the city.

“I just want to speak on behalf of most of the LGBT youth in Prairie Village, and I want to ask you, what makes you deserving to not be discriminated against, but not us?” he said. “I really want to urge you to pass this ordinance.”

Prairie Village resident Eva Brodzik recounted how meaningful it was to her and her wife when the Supreme Court ruled that same-sex marriages were legal across the country, and how welcomed she had felt by her neighbors when the couple displayed a rainbow flag after that decision.

“As to politicians who say, ‘We don’t need an NDO here in Prairie Village. And I’m not against the gays. My best friend is gay or my employee is gay.’ If that’s the case, the only conclusion that I can draw is that your opposition to the NDO is merely politically motivated,” Brodzik said. “And that hypocrisy has no place in my Prairie Village.”

Opponents cite religious issues, burden on businesses

Eric Teetsel, head of the Family Policy Alliance, said the ordinance would cause “disunity” in the city.

Opponents to the measure included Eric Teetsel, president of the Family Policy Alliance, and Shawnee Sen. Mary Pilcher-Cook, both of whom spoke against the introduction of a non-discrimination ordinance in Mission earlier this month.

Teetsel, who is the son-in-law of former Gov. Sam Brownback, argued that non-discrimination ordinances pose a significant legal and financial risk to business owners who feel compelled by religious beliefs to refrain from providing services for gay weddings, for example.

Later in the evening, councilwoman Courtney McFadden noted that the NDO had been endorsed by the NEJC Chamber and not a single Prairie Village business that’s a member of the chamber had opposed the NDO.

Pilcher-Cook told the council that unlike other protected classes — like race or sex — sexual orientation cannot be determined simply by looking at someone.

“The human person cannot be adequately described by his or her sexual inclinations,” she said. “It’s degrading to reduce individuals to such traits.”

Sen. Barbara Bollier of Mission Hills, whose district includes all of Prairie Village, told the council that there was not enough support in the capitol to approve a state-level measure providing protection from discrimination for LGBTQ+ individuals, and urged the council to consider taking steps to provide protections at the local level instead. She said she supported the NDO.

A leader at Mission Road Bible Church spoke against the measure, noting that the Bible defines homosexuality as a sin.

“Christians stand against discrimination in any form,” said Owen Strachan. “And yet we also must make clear that there are standards of right and wrong outlined in the scripture and God’s word that people across the world believe.”

Prior to Monday’s meeting, a group of six Prairie Village faith leaders submitted letters voicing their congregations’ support for the measure.

Former Roeland Park councilwoman Megan England and mayor Joel Marquardt both spoke as well, noting that despite all of the concerns about negative outcomes from the passage of the NDO in that city, its enactment had gone smoothly so far.

“People continue to thank me…for what we did in Roeland Park,” Marquardt said. “It really is important to people.”

City Administrator Wes Jordan and legal counsel from Lathrop and Gage told the council that there were a few specific parts of the ordinance that they wanted to research in greater detail before bringing language before the council for consideration of adoption. Jordan said he was particularly interested in ensuring a system was in place for investigating a discrimination complaint should one arise.

The measure is expected to return to the council for deliberation two meetings from now on Monday, Nov. 19.

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