Many people seem to think just because certain civil rights laws have passed, there are no longer issues. But why do we constantly hear in the media of hate crimes and abuse of power used to target people of color? Likewise, but obviously not the same thing, people seem to think the LGBT community attained its rights when the supreme court ruled in favor of marriage equality.
Well, obviously if you’ve been keeping tabs in the news, you would’ve figured out by now just because one thing in the law has changed, doesn’t make it all better. With Trump’s previous threats of banning transgender people from the military and former Governor Sam Brownback’s anti-gay semantics to protect so-called “religious freedom,” we still have a long way to go.
Brownback was recently recruited by our Commander in Chief to take on his new role as “United States Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom.” So, what does that entail? Well, if it’s to do with him manipulating and amending the laws to ensure religious freedom is in place over LGBTQIA rights, then he’s the man for the job.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m all about equal rights and religious freedom, but not when you mask religious freedom with bigotry. This was proven with SB175, which was passed Mar. 23, 2016. It requires public colleges and universities to give benefits, including access to funding and the use of facilities, to student organizations, even if the organization violates the institution’s anti-discrimination policy.
Luckily, former Democratic Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer has plans to revisit such laws if elected governor in the upcoming election. While attending the opening of his Wichita Campaign Headquarters, I was honored to visit with and asked his disposition on protecting such rights, including, “Do you have any plans to ensure federal LGBT laws aren’t being compromised?” Along with asking his views on SB175.
“Well certainly I think [the laws] need to be looked at very closely and find out if there’s any loopholes and things where those laws have the right to violate anyone else’s rights … [W]e have to put something in place to ensure everyone is protected and they have a source where they can actually go and file legitimate complaints and get results - particularly if they are receiving any type of state funds or incentives - and making sure that there are clear directions that these rights and these rules will not be violated in any way,” Brewer said.
Brewer is a man who came from humble beginnings and endured many struggles. He was taught several valuable lessons, but ultimately has stayed true to his core values of honesty, responsibility, education and his faith in God. He was the first African-American Mayor of Wichita and was re-elected with 69% of the vote. If elected governor, he’ll be the first black governor in the state of Kansas, but wants to be remembered for much more:
“I’m seeing more and more people get caught up in the hype of discrimination and meanness and the hatred that’s going on … Being a former mayor I got the opportunity to see first-hand what decisions were being made at the state level and national level that were affecting our families, communities, and love of government.
“They were tying local governments’ hands and telling them what they could or could not do to define their own destiny. So, after looking at that and recognizing that our families are the ones being hurt the most, someone had to stop it. And if we don’t say anything or do anything about it, then that means we’re in agreement with it. So, we must start standing up for what we believe in.
“Never in my lifetime I would think to see this country or this state be in the condition it is today ... I can’t believe we’re having these conversations today with race and social issues. We cannot ignore this. The [state] leadership has moved us back, but we’re moving forward, not back.”
There’s certainly an element of “hatred” and “meanness” in this state which remains. The Kansas Act Against Discrimination, as it states now, currently protects people of Kansas from discrimination in housing, employment, and public accommodations based on race, religion, color, sex, disability, familial status, national origin, or ancestry.
Since its establishment in 1953, it has been amended several times to include the current civil liberties as they have transpired. In 2016, HB2323 was proposed which would Amend the Kansas Act Against Discrimination to include “sexual orientation and gender identity.” Despite the proponents from respected people among the community, including Thomas Witt, the Executive Director of Equality Kansas, Brownback’s office decided to squash it.
Witt pointed out in a letter the dangers involved with not amending this Act. As of now, Kansas currently has no law protecting individuals based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. This flaw not only affects adults, but children and teenagers as well. The exclusion of sexual orientation and gender identity in the current Act leaves high-risk youth exposed and vulnerable to mistreatment and abuse. They can be denied access to a refuge because of their “lifestyle choices.”
This was the case in 2014 when KDHE was directed to license and regulate “safe houses” but legislators objected to the licensing because “sexual orientation” is not a protected class in the Act, denying those youth the help they would otherwise need to be successful. It also leaves transgender men and women in transition vulnerable in the workplace along with countless other people in the LGBT community not protected against harassment and permits them to be treated unfairly in terms of employment, public accommodations and housing.
After sharing facts of Witt’s letter with Mr. Brewer, I asked for his response and if this is a bill he would revisit to help end discrimination in the LGBT community. His passionate response focused on equality and what’s best for the families in Kansas:
“Well that leads to my original comment about discrimination and separation. Regardless of what a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity may be, or LGBTQ, these are our children, our mothers, our brothers, our sisters, our family. We all know someone in that category. And that goes back to they should be protected just like anyone else. That should not even be a factor. They are human beings.
“I would certainly entertain and go back and push and see that there is something in place to ensure they are protected. The laws we have in place currently, I know that the Brownback administration was getting rid of, rather there were individuals who fell in that category who weren’t being covered in the state. Everyone would be covered. We need to treat all citizens with the utmost respect and we’re going to treat them equally.
“Regardless of whether you like the color of their skin or if you agree or disagree with their sexual orientation or gender identity, that’s none of your business. They are human beings and we’re going to respect and treat them that way. And so certainly, I would push to make sure that does happen. As I said, we cannot afford to open the door for one individual to abuse another individual based on those things.”
Along with equality, Brewer plans to focus on the financial condition of the state, education, the current food tax, diversifying, restructuring and coming up with other things we can use in terms of agriculture, manufacturing and taxes.
“[We need to] create a fair and equitable way to get representation for everyone, whether you’re in urban or rural Kansas, male or female, African American or Latino. Bring back a certain sense of respect … I pay attention to those things and listen. Treat everyone with respect. Treat someone else the way you want to be treated. It’ll make life a whole lot easier.”
For more information on Carl Brewer for Kansas Governor, to donate or volunteer, visit www.brewerforkansas.com. l