Members of the Flint Hills Human Rights Project spoke out against LGBT discrimination at Tuesday’s City Commission meeting.
Jerred McKee, 2014 K-State alum, said current city laws allow landlords and business owners to discriminate based upon the sexuality of tenants.
“As a political science major, one of the first things we learned is as students, the government’s responsibility is to protect its citizens,” McKee said. “But thus far, the state and local government has done a terrible job of that. You have not protected me.”
McKee said he had no guaranteed protections against housing discrimination within Manhattan.
“I could go home tonight and find an eviction notice on my door because my landlord found out I was gay,” McKee said. “And I’m sorry, but if you’re OK with living in a society where that is a legal action, you’re just as bad as them.”
According to the Riley County Community Needs Assessment, 17.4 percent of those surveyed either personally experienced sexual orientation discrimination or witnessed it happen to others.
“(The Flint Hills Human Rights Project) has uncovered seven accounts of discrimination in our city over the last couple of years,” McKee said. “They include a couple being told by a realty company that they can not find them a house.
McKee said one person was refused business by a retailer in town.
“A male trying to buy a dress at a local shop was refused service and told by the owner they did not want his kind in the store and told him his lifestyle was disgusting,” McKee said.
Jim and Judy Nechols, who have lived in Manhattan for 32 years, also addressed the commission about the topic. They spoke about the difficulties their college educated transgender daughter faced in Manhattan.
“She’s intelligent, articulate, caring and educated, with skills that could contribute greatly to our community and society,” Judy Nechols said. “However, it’s been discouraging and frustrating to see our child face unemployment and embarrassing interviews.”
Judy said her daughter faced inappropriate questions at one job interview.
“She was asked personal questions about bathroom use at one of her job interviews, questions that would never be asked of any other job applicant,” Judy said. “Despite being a K-State graduate with many years of job experience and many types of job experience, the only position she was able to find locally was one that pays a little above minimum wage.”
Judy said that while she is concerned about discrimination, her greatest fear is for her daughter’s safety. The murder rate for transgender people in the U.S. is at a record high this year, according to the FBI.
“As a typical young adult, our daughter goes to Aggieville and other places to socialize, and as parents, we spend many sleepless hours waiting for her to return home,” Judy said. “Always with the fear that she may have met with some violence.”
Jim said he feels like his daughter does not have the same protections offered to other people in the city.
“We’ve always thought that Manhattan, Kansas was a great place for our children,” Jim said. “Now we feel that our community is willing to protect only some of our children, LGBT children excluded.”
Jim said the lack of protection laws may encourage people to discriminate against LGBT people.
“It’s disappointing that Manhattan does not have legal protections for LGBT individuals,” Jim said. “Lack of protection tells our citizens, especially those who are already predisposed to prejudice, that in the eyes of our city and state leaders, it’s acceptable to discriminate against LGBT individuals.”
Commissioner Usha Reddi said the issue would require some effort on the part of the city commission.
“I think most of the commissioners here are on your side, but there’s a lot of work to be done,” Reddi said. “These issues need constant discussion. They’re difficult discussions and they make us feel uncomfortable, but that’s probably why we need to have them.”
Reddi said she witnesses difficulties LGBT children go through at her job.
“As a teacher, I do see it in the classroom,” Reddi said. “I see it within the students, very young students who are going through some of these issues. And I think we need to alleviate that. … We can’t change society, but we can have some laws that can protect them from others.”