A month after two marathon meetings in which dozens of Shawnee residents spoke for and against a nondiscrimination ordinance with protections for LGBTQ+ individuals — an ordinance the city council adopted on a 5-2 vote — a few returned to the council chambers on Monday night to voice additional thoughts on the matter.
Two Shawnee residents, David Barry and Stephen Shikles, said their city government lacked transparency in the process of drafting an adopting the nondiscrimination ordinance. Barry said he believes it was “fast-tracked through the approval process with the intent to deny the citizens of Shawnee the opportunity to become informed and educated.”
On the other hand, Shawnee resident Margeaux Seymour, who said she is a practicing Methodist and a gay woman, spoke out in defense of the NDO and the council’s decision, citing the need for “immediate” protections for the LGBTQ community.
“There are people who take their lives because they feel unsupported; there are people who struggle to feel included,” Seymour said. “That is immediate action.”
In their remarks Monday, Barry and Shikles questioned the timeline of events and said they believed the city council voted hastily to stifle any opposition from residents.
“After attending the meeting where the NDO was passed, I’m not convinced that the citizens of Shawnee had a voice,” Barry said. “Citizens may have been provided an opportunity to speak, but no one listened. It’s evident that the minds of these councilmembers was already made up.”
During discussions last month on the NDO, Mayor Michelle Distler said the city had been “working on this” for over a year, which is why city staff were able to prepare NDO language for adoption within two weeks of the first public meeting. The city council met to discuss the possibility of adopting an NDO for the first time in a committee meeting Aug. 13. Two weeks later, on Aug. 26, the council adopted the NDO.
On Monday, Distler said she may have used a “poor choice of words” at the time, but that she stood firm in her position. Some new councilmembers had been raising the issue of an NDO since they were elected and city staff had been monitoring NDO adoptions in neighboring cities and were thus prepared to act.
“There was no active writing of an ordinance or a policy until Councilmember [Lisa] Larson-Bunnell started writing on that,” Distler said.
Barry also accused the council of meeting in secret about the NDO and excluding both Ward 2 councilmembers, Eric Jenkins and Mike Kemmling, who ended up voting against the NDO.
Distler said that to her knowledge, there were no secret meetings and that all councilmembers were included in communications on the NDO.
“As far as the communication, the entire governing body, we all received the same update emails… on what surrounding cities and the Supreme Court were doing,” Distler said. “It was brought up again in our February retreat, which I believe all councilmembers were at.”
Shikles said he felt like his voice was not heard. He also shared his disappointment that the NDO was put to a vote by the council and not the Shawnee voters.
Seymour said religious freedom is a choice and a practice of a belief system “not to be imposed on other people.”
“Everybody has choices. Just because we want to be celebratory of our happy relationship doesn’t mean I’m going to impose on your religious freedom,” Seymour said.