A group of residents from Roeland Park and surrounding communities on Monday asked the Roeland Park city council to move forward with an ordinance that would make the community of just under 7,000 the second city in the state to have a law on the books banning discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
Lawrence has had anti-discrimination ordinance since the 1990s. Hutchinson’s and Salina’s city councils passed anti-discrimination bills in 2012 only to have them repealed by popular votes months later.
Supporters of the new proposed ordinance in Roeland Park packed the City Council chambers, with several addressing the councilors during the public comment portion of the meeting. Roeland Park councilors Jennifer Gunby and Megan England introduced the ordinance two weeks ago. It is tentatively set to come up for a vote April 21.
Sandra Meade, chair of the Kansas Equality Coalition and the host of the monthly TransTalk show on KKFI in Kansas City, encouraged Roeland Park to join the nearly 200 cities across the country with similar ordinances on the books.
“Some people have asked, ‘Why cities?’” Meade said. “As long as the federal government isn’t doing this, and the state isn’t doing it, there is a need. You represent the taxpayers in your cities.”
Meade also emphasized that diversity and inclusive policies are increasingly prevalent in the business community. John Geither, a Roeland Park resident and the owner of several area Subway restaurants, echoed those sentiments. Geither, a gay man and the father of six children, said attitudes about gay rights are shifting, and that members of younger generations simply don’t have the issues with homosexuality and gender identity that older generations might.
“I’m glad we said the pledge of allegiance before this,” he said. “Because it says ‘Liberty and justice for all.’ Not, ‘Except for gay people.’”
Just one attendee at the meeting raised questions about the need for the ordinance. Roeland Park resident Tom Madigan told the councilors that he had spoken to several of his neighbors about the issue, and that everyone he had spoken to was in favor of it ‘”100 percent.” However, Madigan asked the council if there had been any record of anyone in Roeland Park facing discrimination based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.
Madigan also wanted to know how the ordinance would be enforced, and if there would be any cost associated with it.
“We’re also wondering how this got to the top of the agenda so fast,” he said, “and with all the other issues facing this city, how do we get other items to the top of the agenda at light speed?”
Former councilor Linda Mau also addressed the council, throwing a wrench into the proceedings by suggesting that Gunby and England, who participated in a demonstration in favor of the ordinance Sunday, should recuse themselves from voting on the issue on account of a conflict of interest since they’ve helped the group pushing for the ordinance.