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Kansas Bill Would Undo Local Non-Discrimination Laws
April 6, 2012
by Joseph M. Jarvis

Last year, my partner and I moved from Lawrence to the Kansas City area. As we searched for housing, we did what many people do: posted a housing-wanted ad:

Seeking a nice/remodeled townhome or small house in Northeast Johnson Co. We are an early thirties gay professional couple (lawyer & chemist) relocating from Lawrence. Stayed in previous rentals 5 and 3 years respectively; anticipate at least 2 for next. No kids, no pets, nonsmokers, never late on rent.”

The first reply in my inbox was the single line “STAY THE F**K IN LAWRENCE” repeated over and over. I was caught completely off guard. We were lucky that the landlord revealed his or her bias up front. We could have moved in somewhere and then been evicted when the landlord realized we were gay. But the real damage was psychological. Moments like that make being a minority palpable.

While we wait for Kansas and Missouri to catch up to the times and add sexual orientation and gender identity to state non-discrimination laws, cities are filling the void. Kansas City, Mo., and Lawrence ban discrimination against gay and transgender people. Manhattan had a similar policy until reactionaries rolled it back. And Wichita, Salina, and Hutchinson are considering adding sexual orientation and gender identity to their local non-discrimination laws. This patchwork of local laws is not an elegant solution, but it’s progress.

Unfortunately, conservatives in Kansas are doing everything in their power to fight back. On March 28 and 29, the Kansas House overwhelmingly passed Senate Bill 142, which would gut LGBT-inclusive non-discrimination laws. If enacted, the law would allow discriminators to claim a “religious freedom” exemption from local non-discrimination laws that cover sexual orientation or gender identity.

S.B. 142 will go to the Kansas Senate in April. Kansas Equality Coalition, the civil rights group for LGBT and allied Kansans, is advocating in Topeka against this bill. But we need people from metropolitan Kansas City to contact their Kansas senators and oppose S.B. 142. In local politics, individual conversations with lawmakers do make a difference.

Please also consider joining us at one of our monthly meetings, held first Tuesdays at one of the Johnson County library branches and announced on our website.

Joseph M. Jarvis chairs the Kansas City Chapter of the Kansas Equality Coalition (http://kansasequalitycoalition.org).
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