By Trevor Reichle
TOPEKA - It is hard for many people – especially those in states outside the Midwest - to imagine that Kansas has a variety of activists and volunteers championing LGBT causes in the state. One activist who has spent over a decade fighting on behalf of LGBT Kansans is Tom Witt.
Witt currently serves as the executive director for Equality Kansas, an organization that works for pro-LGBT causes and combats anti-LGBT measures in the Kansas state legislature. Witt, whose first big battle in the state was fighting the same-sex marriage ban that eventually passed in 2005, has remained in the state to introduce pro-LGBT legislation each session and counters various anti-LGBT bills as they have come up.
His role is similar to a lobbyist, primarily focusing on meeting with legislators from both parties to work out issues and present the perspective of the local community on LGBT issues and how they might affect the state in a variety of forms. Witt currently lives in Wichita with his partner Mike, and has a grown daughter, but spends most of the legislative session in Topeka.
“We advocate for the passage of laws for LGBT people, especially nondiscrimination and anti-bullying ones,” Witt said. “We also fight against any laws that are anti-LGBT.”
Witt, who had a long career in information technology prior to his activism career, has also volunteered to serve on boards for organizations such as Wichita Pride, the Center of Wichita, KSTEP, and the Kansas National Organization for Women.
Equality Kansas, formerly known as the Kansas Equality Coalition, is aiding in the introduction of a variety of bills for the 2017-2018 legislative session, including a ban on conversion therapy for minors, repealing the state’s unenforceable same-sex sodomy laws, and repealing the same-sex marriage ban, which while being overridden by the Supreme Court’s decision on Obergefell v. Hodges in 2015, is still on the books.
Witt also noted that they would be fighting against any anti-LGBT legislation that may come up, including bathroom bills disallowing transgender people from using the bathroom of their gender identity and any potential religious freedom laws that may seek to allow discrimination against LGBT people.
With many LGBT people all over the state fearing what is to come in the years ahead at the federal level following President Trump’s election, Witt offered some solace to confront those worries. “What the new administration does – relatively speaking – has little impact here in the state,” Witt said, noting the importance of fighting for LGBT rights here in the state first and foremost.
“He [President Trump] is unpredictable and dangerous,” Witt said. “But most of it comes down to the state.”
Nonetheless, the state has been no stranger to introducing legislation aimed at curtailing LGBT rights. Despite this, Witt pointed out that in over a decade of work, Equality Kansas has lost only twice – first the same-sex marriage ban, and second, in 2015, the Campus Religious Freedom Bill allowing campus groups to remove or prevent students who are LGBT from joining.
The organization has chapters all over the state, Witt pointed out. People may become involved by joining their local chapter and subscribing to its mailing list, which includes action alerts. Equality Kansas will also be hosting an upcoming Advocacy Day on Mar. 21 from 9am-3pm at the Kansas State Capital building in Topeka. Find the event on Facebook under EQKS Advocacy Day for more details. l