Politics & Government

Mayor candidate proposes discrimination protections for LGBT individuals and veterans

Saying Kansas’ largest city should be the leader in fighting discrimination, state Rep. and Wichita mayor candidate Brandon Whipple has proposed an ordinance to protect LGBT individuals, soldiers and veterans.

The proposed ordinance would ban discrimination in housing, employment and public accommodations on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity or active-military or veteran status.

It would apply to all city departments, advisory boards, agencies and contractors.

A number of municipalities around the state, including Kansas City/Wyandotte County, Lawrence, Manhattan, Prairie Village and Roeland Park have ordinances banning discrimination against LGBT individuals.

“It’s past time we as the largest city in this state show some leadership on behalf of all its citizens,” Whipple said in a statement.

A January study by the UCLA School of Law estimated there are about 72,600 LGBT adults in Kansas, 56,000 of whom are workers.

Only 12 percent are protected by local anti-discrimination ordinances.

Veterans and active military are protected by a federal anti-discrimination law, the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act, commonly known as USERRA.

Whipple acknowledged that, but said an extra layer of legal protection would make the situation clearer and make it easier for soldiers or veterans to bring cases before a judge.

Neither federal nor Kansas law protects LGBT individuals from discrimination and they can be denied employment or fired at will.

One of the few exceptions to that is state employment, at least for now. Former Gov. Sam Brownback, a Republican, revoked protection for LGBT state workers in 2015.

In January, Gov. Laura Kelly, a Democrat, reinstated it by executive order.

In the 1970s, Wichita had an ordinance barring discrimination against gay people. It was repealed in 1978.

Whipple framed his proposed anti-discrimination ordinance in economic terms, saying it would send a message of inclusiveness to companies that might be considering doing business here.

“Most major employers have already adopted these kinds of provisions,” he said. “It’s not radical, not in today’s day and age.”

The UCLA study named three of Wichita’s biggest companies — Spirit AeroSystems, Cessna Aircraft and Hawker Beechcraft — as having anti-discrimination policies in place.

Whipple said those companies and others like them are competing for the top talent in the global market.

“It makes sense if we’re trying to do the same (as a city), we should be taking a lesson from the private sector,” he said. “Unfortunately, Wichita’s greatest export is becoming highly educated young people.”

He said as mayor, it would be his job to “create an environment that encourages this talent – our kids and grandkids – to stay here to live out their dreams.”

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Senior Journalist Dion Lefler has been providing award-winning coverage of local government, politics and business in Wichita for 20 years. Dion hails from Los Angeles, where he worked for the LA Daily News, the Pasadena Star-News and other papers. He’s a father of twins, director of lay servant ministries in the United Methodist Church and plays second base for the Old Cowtown vintage baseball team.