Roeland Park Council Votes Down Anti-Bias Ordinance

On the evening of July 21, the Roeland Park City Council voted 4-3 to defeat the anti-discrimination ordinance that would have protected LGBT citizens and military veterans from discrimination. Council members Sheri McNeil, Michael Rhoades, Mel Croston and Marek Gliniecki voted no, and Jennifer Gunby, Megan England and Teresa Kelly voted yes. Council member Becky Fast was absent.
Passing the measure would have made Roeland Park the second city in Kansas to have anti-discrimination ordinances based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Lawrence enacted an anti-discrimination ordinance in 1995 based on sexual orientation and added gender identity to the protection on Sept. 27, 2011. Kansas City, Mo., has had anti-discrimination policies protecting sexual orientation since 1993 and added gender identity to their ordinance on April 3, 2008. (see story at Kansas City Anti-Discrimination Ordinance).
The Roeland Park City Council has been discussing this issue since March, when England and Gunby introduced an ordinance that would add sexual orientation and gender identity to the city’s anti-discrimination law. The council postponed the vote several times after often-contentious discussions with Roeland Park residents. Their concerns included gender-neutral bathrooms, transgender issues, and some residents’ feeling that this was about special rights, not equal rights. Supporters of the anti-discrimination measure were encouraged to wear bright blue shirts at the July 21 meeting, which was moved from City Hall to the Roeland Park Community Center because of the large number of people who were expected to attend.
The large community center hall was standing-room-only for nearly three hours. The council heard opinions from nearly 50 people who had signed up earlier in the evening to make one-and-a-half-minute presentations about the ordinance. Most of these speakers identified themselves as Roeland Park residents. Several others were not, including people from area faith communities who spoke in favor of the ordinance and presented signed petitions of support from other faith leaders. Community representatives speaking in favor of the ordinance included Michael Poppa, Sandra Meade and other members of Equality Kansas, Carolyn Finken-Dove of PFLAG, and Holly Weatherford of the ACLU of Kansas and Western Missouri.
Opponents of the ordinance presented arguments that included the opinion that LGBT people are not discriminated against, objections because of religious beliefs toward homosexuality, and concerns that legal fights could cause more expenses for an already tax-burdened community. One resident even went so far as to say that encouraging homosexual men to live openly in Roeland Park would be a health issue, and she cited all the various diseases that she thought this would bring to the community.
Supporters of the ordinance offered reasons that Roeland Park should embrace diversity among all residents, and some told personal stories of how discrimination had affected them or their family and friends. Among the many supporters speaking was Elizabeth Anderson, LIKEME Lighthouse board member and host of The Tenth Voice radio magazine. She spoke as a lesbian parent, and both of her straight ally sons also spoke in support of the ordinance. Arick West, member at-large of the Kansas City, Mo., School Board, spoke about how equality affects education and offered his services on behalf of the school board for any future discussions.
Before the vote, the council members spoke about why they felt the ordinance should pass or fail. England, one of the presenters of the ordinance, reassured residents that any legal expenses caused by discrimination claims would be paid by those involved in the lawsuit, not the city.

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