Protection in workplace should extend to all

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On Feb. 4, Senate Bill 169, adding “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” to Kansas’ current nondiscrimination statute, passed on a 5-3 vote. This approval moves Bill 169 to the full Senate for consideration.

Currently there is no Kansas state law prohibiting employment discrimination based upon sexual orientation and gender identity. The Kansas law prohibits workplace discrimination based on race, religion, color, sex, disability, national origin or ancestry.

This is not the first time that legislation has been placed before the Senate for consideration. In 2005, an amendment was introduced in the Committee on Federal and State Affairs to add sexual orientation to the Kansas Act Against Discrimination. The amendment failed to pass.

In February 2009, Bill 169 was introduced and Sen. Dennis Pyle, R-Hiawatha, had the audacity to ask if the bill would protect bestiality. Making the correlation between sexual relationships concerning two consenting adults and the crime of sexual relations with an animal makes me concerned for the population that this elected official represents. In March 2009, Sen. Pete Brungardt, R-Salina, said there was not enough support in the Legislature for the measure, and he did not bring the matter up for a committee vote.

With a new year, the state Legislature needs to do the right thing and pass Bill 169. In 2007 Gov. Kathleen Sebelius issued Executive Order No. 07-24 prohibiting discrimination and harassment in state employment on account of “race, color, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, religion, national origin, ancestry, age, military or veteran status or disability status.” When speaking of this order, Sebelius was quoted in the Williams Institute Employment Discrimination Report, saying, “like any successful business, we need to make sure all our employees are treated with dignity and respect and that the doors of employment are open to all.”

K-State and The University of Kansas have adopted nondiscrimination policies that protect on the basis of sexual orientation, and K-State further extends the protection to gender identity. Institutes of higher education tend to adopt progressive policies before the working world does. With nondiscrimination policies extending to sexual orientation and gender identity, universities have clearly demonstrated where they stand on the issue.

With the impending arrival of the National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility and the Arthropod-Borne Animal Disease Research Laboratory, a multitude of other businesses will open in Manhattan. Over the next 10 years, Manhattan is set to experience massive expansion. This is a time to attract high-quality workers. Without a law protecting sexual orientation and gender identity, there remains a large pool of qualified workers who will not seek employment in Kansas.

In January 2008, Jayhawk Consulting Services, an independent nonpartisan polling group, found that 79 percent of people agreed that it is wrong to fire someone for being gay or lesbian. The research indicated that 68 percent of Kansans also favor legislation that bans discrimination against gay and lesbian individuals. The desire of elected officials to push their religious or otherwise-motivated moral views should not be tolerated by a voting public that appears to want Bill 169 to pass.

I agree with this majority and see little reason to deny the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered community the right to employment and the ability for people to follow their dreams. The Kansas Legislature needs to do what is morally right and realize that denying a minority population the right to equal opportunity and protection is simply wrong.

One would have thought our nation has learned from our embarrassing past the effects of denying certain groups the same protections the majority enjoys.

– Jason Strachman Miller is a junior in print journalism.  Send comments to
opinion@spub.ksu.edu.

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