Mission could vote on non-discrimination ordinance with protections for LGBTQ community in December

Sollie Flora speaking at a candidate forum in 2017. She introduced the NDO in Mission last month.

A proposed nondiscrimination ordinance that would offer legal protections to LGBTQ individuals in Mission is close to being ready for a formal vote — but leaders want to give the language one final look.

City administrator Laura Smith on Wednesday asked for councilmembers to submit their suggested revisions by the end of November. The Mission council will then have one more round of discussion at committee level Dec. 12, during which it could advance the proposed ordinance to the Dec. 19 council meeting for a final vote.

Councilmembers and a few members of the public at the city’s committee meeting Wednesday said they hoped the ordinance would demonstrate that Mission welcomes everyone, no matter their sexual orientation or gender identity.

“Can’t we all agree that if we can draw a line anywhere, it’s on discrimination and discrimination shouldn’t happen?” said Kevin Fullerton, a Mission business owner and president of the Mission Business Association, who urged the council to pass the ordinance. “We’re going to draw the line here, and we’re going to say, ‘This is Mission; this is how we do things. And you’re all welcome here in Mission.’”

Sexual orientation and gender identity, under this ordinance, would become protected alongside existing protected classes like race, color, religion, national origin, sex, age, disability, marital status, familial status or military status.

Several NEJC cities looking at NDOs

Mission’s council at Wednesday’s committee meeting. The city council vote on the NDO ordinance in December.

Similar ordinances have been taken up in neighboring cities, including Prairie Village and Merriam. Roeland Park passed a nondiscrimination ordinance in 2014. Jeff Harris, a Westwood councilmember who spoke last night in support, said it’s not a coincidence; cities are taking up the cause while state legislators have taken no collective action. Rep. Jarrod Ousley, whose district includes Merriam and parts of Mission and Overland Park, echoed Harris’s sentiments.

Several Mission residents and others from Johnson County supported the ordinance last night, citing higher rates of violence toward the LGBTQ community, higher rates of suicide among LGBTQ teenagers and higher risks of unemployment and homelessness.

Suzanne Wheeler, a transgender lesbian, said she and her fiancee moved to Mission four months ago instead of Roeland Park because they found a good deal on a house. But they had reservations because Mission doesn’t have a nondiscrimination ordinance.

“Believe it or not, I celebrate the right of others to not endorse who I am,” said Wheeler, who is also a veteran, “but employing my skills and renting a home to me in exchange for money is not an endorsement of my lifestyle. It’s a business transaction.”

When councilmember Ken Davis asked how Mission should address concerns about privacy in restrooms and locker rooms, such as at Sylvester Powell Jr. Community Center, Wheeler said her personal privacy and the privacy of others is important — and it hasn’t been an issue in the past.

Former mayor Steve Schowengerdt said Mission is welcoming, but he’s concerned that men who are predators could take advantage of the ordinance and gain access into restrooms for women and children.

“It just seems like this is a little overkill,” Schowengerdt said, suggesting the council consider a resolution instead of a legally enforceable ordinance. “It seems like a resolution stating how we feel and how we expect people to act toward people that live in Mission, come and visit in Mission, everybody’s treated the same; we don’t discriminate.”

Davis said a resolution “doesn’t have any teeth.”

The draft ordinance stipulates that people can file a complaint of discrimination within 60 days of an incident, and an appointed investigator appointed will review and evaluate the case to find probable cause that discrimination occurred. If it isn’t resolved, then the case would be taken before a hearing officer.