The City Commission passed a discrimination ordinance with a 3-2 vote last night. Commissioner Jayme Morris-Hardeman, Commissioner Jim Sherow,and Mayor Bruce Snead voted in favor of the ordinance. Bob Strawn and Loren Pepperd cast the dissenting votes.
This ordinance adds sexual orientation and gender identity to the protected classes list, alongside items such as color, military status and religion.
“I’m completely, totally opposed to the ordinance without reservation,” Strawn said.
Pepperd called the ordinance an entitlement and said he believes a minority, not a majority, wanted the ordinance.
“This is about equal rights,” Snead said. “It’s not about special rights or special protections. It’s about equal protections.”
After the amendment passed, Samuel Brinton, president of LGBTQ&More at K-State, called the day an “exciting day in history” and said he was glad Manhattan was catching up with K-State with its protections for LGBT persons.
Snead said in a state like Kansas, it is often hard to be a leader on issues such as the discrimination ordinance. But he believed the process has turned out a good ordinance for the community.
“It’s the right thing to do,” Snead said.
Commissioners began discussion of the ordinance with a presentation by Katie Jackson, assistant city attorney. Jackson initially made a presentation last December when the ordinance was first presented.
Her presentation at last night’s meeting was updated to reflect the work of city administrators since the December reading. The changes made to the ordinance were the result of discussions at the December meeting.
Several key changes were made. Notably, the term gender identity was given a definition. According to the ordinance, it is defined as “a person’s good faith and continuing presentation of the person’s gender-related identity, appearance, mannerisms, or other gender-related characteristics, which may or may not be consistent with the person’s biological sex.”
The definition of gender identity was one of the issues that commissioners debated during the first reason. Strawn said, during the first reading, criticized the ordinance for a lack of definition of gender identity, among other things.
A definition of religious organization was also removed. Jackson said the definition was causing confusion and was not defined in the state law as it was in the first reading of the ordinance.
Jackson said part of the ordinance now reads “actual or perceived heterosexuality, homosexuality, or bisexuality.” Concern arose with the phrase when the words “actual or perceived” were not included in the first reading of the ordinance.
An exemption was added to the Unlawful Employment Practices, section 10-16. The exemption allows an employer to be relieved of liability if they provide similar accommodations, such as restrooms and locker rooms, for persons with a different gender identity.
Also, business owners and those providing public accommodations may inquire “whether a person has good faith and continuing to establish a particular gender identity” to ensure, for example, that a man is not merely identifying himself as a woman to enter the women’s locker room.
The commission then opened the meeting up for public comment.
Lora Boyer, resident of Manhattan, said that views against LGBT persons are based on fear. With the passing of the ordinance, she said people will become more acquainted with LGBT persons and the fear will be eliminated.
Nathan Wilson, resident of Manhattan, spoke against the ordinance and said it stands against God’s law in the Bible.