City commission advances anti-discrimination ordinance

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City hall had a large turnout as the public heard the city commission’s first reading of an anti-discrimination ordinance Tuesday evening.

City commissioners unanimously approved the first reading of the ordinance that includes protection for gender identity and sexual orientation against workplace, housing and business discrimination.

Citizens spoke out in favor of the ordinance, including Harlan Weaver, assistant professor of gender, women and sexuality studies at K-State.

“When I moved to Manhattan last year, I was more than a little nervous about what it would be like to be a queer and a trans person in this community,” Weaver said. “Seeing the work and the care that has gone into this ordinance has helped me come to think of Manhattan as not just the place that I live, but a place I want to continue to make my home.”

According to a Riley County Community Needs Assessment conducted last year, 17.4 percent of those surveyed either personally experienced sexual orientation discrimination or witnessed it happen to others.

Pat Bosco, vice president of student life and dean of students, attended a city commission meeting in April where he expressed support for the ordinance.

Commissioner Mike Dodson said he wanted to make sure the entire community is involved with the progress of the ordinance.

“Culture changes slowly,” Dodson said. “But it changes through education and dialogue. So I would just ask all those of you who have participated in this so well so far to think about how we go about bringing everybody along in a way that needs to be happening and a way that’s comfortable for everybody.”

Commissioner Wynn Butler addressed the ordinance’s exemption for locker rooms and why he thought they differed from restrooms.

“A lot of people feel like that should be an exemption,” Butler said. “That is in there simply because, as Commissioner Dodson said, it’s a culture change. And what we’re doing here is a little bit of a culture change and some people just aren’t ready for that.”

Commissioner Carol McCulloh also weighed in her thoughts on the ordinance.

“Remember that we are working towards being a community that really is accepting and positive,” McCulloh said. “And you take small steps and then sometimes you take a step backwards but you keep trying to push on through.”

The ordinance, if approved at the second reading (tentatively scheduled at the August 2 meeting), would go into effect in November. Entities found in violation could face a fine of up to $500.

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