LGBT Protections for State Workers Will Be Restored, Kansas Governor-Elect Vows

by | November 12, 2018

By Jonathan Shorman

Gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender state employees across Kansas will again have protections from on-the-job discrimination once Democrat Laura Kelly becomes governor.

Kelly on Thursday reaffirmed plans to reinstate an executive order providing a protection from discrimination that former Gov. Sam Brownback rescinded in 2015.

The order, first put in place by Democratic Gov. Kathleen Sebelius in 2007, prohibited harassment, firing or discrimination against state workers based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

"I am planning to actually have an executive order drafted before I take office" to take action as soon as possible, Kelly said.

Kelly, who defeated Republican Kris Kobach on Tuesday, made the remarks in a wide-ranging news conference at the Kansas Capitol that touched on LGBT rights, foster care and her approach to filling the new administration.

Brownback removed the protections the same year the U.S. Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage nationwide. At the time, Brownback said the order had created "a new protected class" through executive action and that any change should be made by the Legislature.

According to the Human Rights Campaign, 21 states and the District of Columbia prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Another six states prohibit discrimination against only public employees on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity; five states also prohibit discrimination against public employees based only on sexual orientation.

Kansas sits in the middle of a string of Midwest states stretching North Dakota to Texas that have no anti-discrimination prohibitions.

"We're quite pleased she's keeping her campaign promise and we're not surprised," said Tom Witt, director of Equality Kansas.

Kelly's comments come after the election of the first two openly LGBT members of the Kansas House. Democrats Brandon Woodard and Susan Ruiz both won suburban Kansas City-area seats Tuesday.

At the national level, Kansas City-area voters elected Sharice Davids to Congress. Davids will be the state's first openly LGBT member of Congress, and the first Native American woman to serve in Congress, along with New Mexico's Deb Haaland.

Kelly also said that if it is possible, she will direct the state to require adoption agencies with state contracts to not discriminate against LGBT couples and individuals.

Earlier this year, the Legislature approved a bill that ensures ensures faith-based adoption agencies can turn away gay and lesbian couples based on religious beliefs. The bill says the Kansas Department for Children and Families cannot block any foster or adoption agency from participating in its programs solely because it refuses to adopt or place children with LGBT individuals.

The legislation was supported by the Family Policy Alliance of Kansas, and the group after Tuesday's election called Kelly "an enemy of life, family and religious freedom."

"During her campaign she pledged to rollback protections for the unborn and faith-based adoption and foster care ministries, which would be consistent with her long record of opposing the values most Kansans hold dear," Eric Teetsel, the group's president, said.

Kelly also said Thursday that she supports medical marijuana and believes Kansas is ready for it. Her comments came after Missouri approved medical marijuana earlier this week.

A Fort Hays State University poll this fall of Kansans found 52 percent of respondents support legalizing recreational marijuana for those 21 and older. Thirty-nine percent expressed opposition. The poll did not ask about medical marijuana.

Kelly will become governor on Jan. 14. In the run up to her inauguration, she will need to name cabinet secretaries and other administration officials.

Kelly promised a bipartisan and diverse cabinet. Asked what qualities she'll be looking for in appointments, Kelly replied, "people who know what they're doing" and highly-skilled individuals.

Kelly, who is currently a Topeka state senator, also said Thursday she plans to live in Cedar Crest, the governor's traditional residence near the city.

(c)2018 The Wichita Eagle (Wichita, Kan.)