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Saturday, February 19, 2011

Will Kansas Be Known as a Haven for Anti-LGBT Discrimination?

By Mindy Townsend -

You know, there was a time when I would have been proud to be a Kansan. We were fighting for the rights of slaves years before Fort Sumter. The socialist periodical “Appeal to Reason” was published in Girard, not 30 miles from where I grew up. We used to care about people.
But do we anymore?
After Manhattan’s recent LGBT rights victory, I was feeling pretty positive. I was inspired by the people behind it; people who were not afraid to stand up and do the right thing. I thought that if this could happen here, even on this small scale, things might be OK.
Sure, I expected some backlash by the family values czars. A group called Awake Manhattan has started a petition that seeks to halt the enforcement of the new ordinance. Ok, that’s not great, but expected. What I honestly didn’t expect was for the state legislature to get involved.
But get involved it did (because limited government stops where the freaky gays are concerned, apparently). Recently, a bill was introduced to the Kansas House Judiciary Committee that would basically nullify any progress. All in the name of letting religious bigots do whatever they want.
In essence, what the bill does is allow discrimination against groups not included in state statute, as long as that discrimination is a manifestation of a religious belief. The bill does some amazing logical gymnastics when it says that a “compelling governmental interest” does not include the “prohibition of a practice or policy of discrimination against individuals in employment relations, in access to free and public accommodations or housing” (sound familiar?) except for already defined in the Kansas non-discrimination statute, which, natch, does not include LGBT people. (Yeah, the government doesn’t have a compelling interest in protecting it’s citizens from discrimination. And I have a bridge to sell you, too.) And as long as your basis for discriminating is that you were exercising your religious belief, it’s totally cool.
Look, I’m not religious. And I don’t especially care if other people are. But let’s be clear: anti-discrimination measures are not my attempt to force an atheist-liberal-homosexual agenda on an unsuspecting populace. It’s an attempt to create and maintain a pluralistic society, where everyone has equal dignity and rights under the law.
And, and believe it or not, those who fight for equality are fighting for you, dear religious people of the world. By ensuring the rights of the most persecuted, we ensure that you cannot be fired for being a particular race or religion or sex or whatever else. Because that’s how we do things here. We brook no foolishness. Are you a nice person? Are you doing your job? Are you peacefully living your life? Great. Because that’s all that’s supposed to matter.
At least, that’s what I thought.
But really, I personally won’t be affected by this too much. I’m straight, so I guess I should just shut my brain off and be happy. But, really, this is still a personal affront to me, an under-employed Kansas citizen and resident. We elected you to create jobs. But you, our state representatives, are more afraid that some poor, oppressed (ha!) Christian business owner will have to tolerate his gay employee, or will have to tolerate a trans-woman’s use of the bathroom. So, for the entire state, I want to say, thank you. Thank you for wasting taxpayer time and money by trying to keep one group down, instead of trying to lift everyone up. Please remind me of this next election cycle.
There is, however, a bit of good news. In late January, a bill was introduced in the Kansas Senate that includes sexual orientation and gender identity in the Kansas non-discrimination statute, effectively nullifying the House bill. (There’s still the issue of giving religious people a free pass to discriminate, but that’s an issue for another time.) It will be an interesting showdown, and one that will indicate whether we care about all people or certain people. It will tell me whether I can be proud of us again.
And if you'd like, send a message to Kansas legislators letting them know that it's time to say "no" to discrimination in the state.

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