Roeland Park could become only the second city in Kansas to pass an ordinance that bans discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. The city council tentatively set April 21 as the date for a vote on the ordinance.
Councilors Jennifer Gunby and Megan England said they have been working on the proposal for the last year. They both urged faster action to adopt it. No councilor spoke against the measure, but several asked for more time before a vote to let the public become familiar with the measure and weigh in. “If you want this to go well, do it slowly and methodically,” Councilor Robert Meyers said.
The state chair of Kansas Equality, Sandra Meade, and local chapter chair for the metro, Michael Poppa, both spoke to the council and answered questions about the proposal. Poppa said the ordinance had personal importance for him as a gay Roeland Park resident.
When asked why Roeland Park, Meade said it needs to happen in every community. “Discrimination does not stop at the borders of Roeland Park.” The plan, she said, is to approach other cities, “You are ahead of most.” She said 17 states include protection for sexual orientation and gender identity. “You are a trendsetter in Kansas.” Many cities around the country already have protection laws.
“People are born the way they are born,” Mayor Joel Marquardt said, “and we should respect that.” Councilor Mel Croston said, “I was passionate about this coming out tonight. I am completely all for this.” She added, “I worry about how this would affect a small city.” Noting an older population in Roeland Park, she said there are “a lot of people who don’t bend.”
Meyers asked for policies to be worked out for implementation and raised questions about restroom accommodations. To Meade, who is a transgender woman, he said, “If you walked into a men’s room, I would have a heart attack.” Sheri McNeil also said “the restroom situation does unnerve me a little bit.” Meade promised to bring the council sample policies from other cities and schools. The ordinance, though, apparently would not affect public or parochial schools.
“I want this to pass,” Becky Fast said, suggesting people need to be included in the discussion and educated or “it will go down in flames.” Teresa Kelly called the ordinance “a good thing” but asked to give people time to understand it.
“In my book, this is a yes or no. We have a loophole allowing discrimination in the city and I want to close that.”
The ordinance would add the protections for sexual orientation and gender identity in employment, housing and public accommodations. Certain groups that are not open to the public would have an exemption, including religious based groups.
Neither Kansas law or federal law include the protections.