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Gov. Kelly’s support of LGBT rights is a positive step forward for all Kansans

In one of her first executive actions after being sworn in as governor this week, Laura Kelly has displayed tremendous courage and empathy for a vulnerable group of people by extending nondiscrimination protections to LGBT government employees across the state. This order will have a positive effect on thousands of Kansans and their families, and is a much-needed reprieve from discrimination often faced by everyday Americans who simply want to work hard and provide for their loved ones.

The order is a fulfillment of a promise Kelly made several weeks ago and is an extension of the executive order I first enacted as governor in 2007, prohibiting discrimination against state employees based on sexual orientation or gender identity. It’s a commonsense action: we need to prioritize hiring state workers who are best qualified for their jobs — and once hired, those workers should be focused on their performance, not worried about being singled out or possibly terminated for being their authentic selves.

Kelly’s order is not only the right thing to do for Kansas in a moral sense. It’s also a step toward ensuring our state is well-positioned to attract and maintain businesses that strengthen our economy, our communities, and our families. Kansans support treating all people fairly and equally because it’s the right thing to do. But we also know that common sense and inclusive policies are critical to maintaining our state’s economic competitiveness. Our elected officials need to do everything they can to support the 21st-century jobs that are central to the prosperity of so many Kansans — from aviation to health care. One way to do that is by ensuring we have sound policies in place that make our state as welcoming as possible. We cannot risk losing potential investment or talent by not being open to all.

We need look no further than North Carolina as a cautionary tale to see the serious, direct impact of discrimination on the economy. When North Carolina passed the nation’s most harmful anti-LGBT law several years ago banning transgender people from using restrooms that match who they are and prohibiting towns and cities from enacting local nondiscrimination ordinances, the state saw devastating consequences. The discriminatory HB 2 cost North Carolina approximately $630 million in less than a year, and the state lost 2,000 new jobs from halted corporate investments, including 250 jobs at Deutsche Bank and 400 jobs at PayPal. The negative impacts have continued as recently as this week, when Netflix announced it would boycott filming a new series in North Carolina partly because of the law.

Gov. Kelly’s announcement is a good sign that Kansas won’t be headed in that direction anytime soon — and it’s an affirmation that Kansas values LGBT people in our communities. But this step forward is also a temporary solution to a larger problem. If our goal is to live up to the American promises of equal opportunity and justice for all, our nation cannot allow the question of fairness to depend on which state we happen to call home. And as we know here in Kansas, executive orders are subject to being overturned or reversed depending on who is in office. Following the Supreme Court’s 2015 ruling legalizing same-sex couples’ freedom to marry nationwide, former Gov. Sam Brownback repealed the pro-LGBT order I’d issued prior. Kelly’s order is subject to the same possible outcome once her term ends.

That’s why 19 states across the country have codified explicit and comprehensive protections for LGBT people into state law, and it’s why members of Congress are pushing forward legislation like the Equality Act, which would update federal law to include protecting LGBT people from discrimination and ending the patchwork of different laws around the country. Despite an administration in the White House hostile to LGBT equality, there is growing momentum among elected officials of all political persuasions for treating everyone with dignity and respect. And our governor is in great company. Five other governors have issued executive orders of this kind in the past four weeks, including three Republicans. It’s clear that discrimination has no place in our state, or in America.

In such a divisive political climate, it’s a victory that state employees in Kansas will no longer need to fear being fired or harassed because of who they are or who they love. This order will have tangible practical implications, and it sends a message to our LGBT neighbors that we have their back. Protecting any group of people from discrimination is good for all of us, and I congratulate Gov. Laura Kelly on advancing these positive values.

Kathleen Sebelius is the former governor of Kansas and former U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services.
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