During the Manhattan City Commission meeting on Tuesday, commissioners and public attendees spoke of possible amendments to Chapter 10 of the city of Manhattan’s Code of Ordinances, which is about civil rights regarding prohibitions against discrimination.
The meeting room was filled quickly, spilling out into the lobby where many attendees viewed the proceedings from TV screens.
“I appreciate so much the courage on both sides of this issue,” Vice President of Student Life and Dean of Students Pat Bosco said. “It’s not easy to stand up when you have one or two people applauding as well as feeling that you are going to get hurt.”
Bosco said he supports an updated ordinance that would be inclusive to LGBT citizens.
Jason Hilgers, deputy city manager, began by presenting the current ordinance against discrimination. According to Hilgers, while language such as sexual orientation and gender identity were heavily discussed, the two terms were not included in the 2011 ordinance.
According to the repealed ordinance included in the City Commission’s agenda, however, both sexual orientation and gender identity were clearly defined in the 2011 ordinance.
According to Chapter 10 of the Code of Ordinances, a human rights and services board will “receive, initiate, investigate, pass upon and attempt to conciliate complaints alleging unlawful discrimination in employment, public accommodations and housing.”
The Human Rights and Services Board has created five options for the City Commission to put to a vote. The options range from no new amendments to adding “sexual orientation and/or gender identity to the list of protected classes and create a local human rights commission that enforces all complaints of discrimination,” according to a presentation given by Hilgers.
Throughout the meeting, attendees heard both sides of the debate. Public speakers spoke of discrimination in the Manhattan community, how the changes would influence business owners and landlords, how changing the wording would create an inclusive community and what including words like “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” mean to religion.
Religious representatives shared with commissioners excerpts from the Bible along with personal stories.
“I was one of 14 pastors who signed a letter encouraging this commission to take action to protect gay, lesbian, transgender and bisexual people here,” Jonalu Johnstone, Manhattan community minister, said. “I have been a minister for more than 20 years. For more than 30 years, I have been in a lesbian relationship. When I first started working on these issues, the only arguments were from the religious community. Now it is clear that the religious community is no longer united against protecting gay, lesbian, transgender and bisexual people.”
The commissioners did not vote on the amendments during this meeting but are planning to vote in the future.
The current Human Rights and Services Board serves as a way for citizens to have their voice heard regarding civil rights issues. According to the City of Manhattan’s website, the board addresses complaints against discrimination and makes recommendations to the City Commission concerning policies, procedures and programs.
When presented the five options, the Human Rights and Services Board voted 5-1 in favor of option five. This option adds sexual orientation and/or gender identity to the list of protected classes and creates a local human rights commission, which mimics the Kansas Human Rights Commission.
Although the Human Rights and Services Board voted for option five, the final say is up to the City Commission. When asked about the complaints currently received, Hilgers said that three to five complaints are made directly to the board; however, citizens can choose to file a report directly to the Kansas Human Rights Commission.
K-State was represented at the meeting with multiple students present. In addition to students, faculty of K-State also chose to speak out about K-State policies, particularly through the athletic division. One student addressed the room, quoting the Bible.
“If you’re going to consider Scripture, consider this: ‘The greatest of these is love,’” Seth Dills, junior in elementary education and international studies, said in his support of an updated ordinance.