Watson Park Rally

Rep. Susan Ruiz represents the 23rd House District, which includes Shawnee. Along with KU graduate Brandon Woodard, Ruiz is the first openly gay legislator in Kansas history.

Opinion 

This story has been updated to reflect the passage of a non-discrimination ordinance by the Shawnee city council.

Over the course of the last few months, the topic of non-discrimination ordinances that protect citizens against discrimination based on sexual orientation has become rampantly common in many cities near Lawrence.

These proposed ordinances would provide legal protections against discrimination based upon sexual orientation or gender identity in public housing and employment. Non-discrimination ordinances have been adopted in the city of Leawood, and most recently Shawnee, and continue to be a heated topic of debate in Lenexa and Olathe. 

These proposed ordinances have been met with both great acceptance and opposition. Before passing an ordinance of their own earlier this week, Shawnee hosted a town hall in early August. Citizens who opposed the ordinance raised concerns that it would grant “special rights” to LGBTQ+ individuals, that the ordinance was unnecessary and divisive, and that the ordinance impeded religious freedoms.

Those who argued in favor of the ordinance, including Rep. Susan Ruiz (D-Shawnee), one of the two first openly gay legislators in the state Legislature, claimed that the ordinance was a necessary protection as many LGBTQ+ individuals were already facing notable discrimination.

Additionally, those in favor claimed that there were no “special rights” granted to LGBTQ+ individuals, only equal rights. While the ordinance does nothing to impede upon the rights of non-LGBTQ+ individuals, adopting a city ordinance to promote inclusivity could greatly motivate more LGBTQ+ individuals to live and do business in Shawnee.

Lawrence has long-since held the title of the most inclusive city in the state of Kansas and has had a non-discrimination ordinance in place since the early 1990s. And yet, most KU students are returning home to Kansas cities where these same legal protections do not exist. Other Kansas cities that do have similar non-discrimination protections in place include Topeka, Prairie Village, Roeland Park, Leawood and all of Wyandotte County.

The state of Kansas is one of 26 U.S. states with no state law preventing discrimination based upon sexual orientation or gender identity. The city attorney of Leawood, Patricia Bennet, said in a statement that the city decided to consider the ordinance and address the issue because of the lack of both state and federal protections against discrimination.

Similarly, Shawnee council president Stephanie Meyer said in a statement that this is an issue “probably best handled by the state or federal government.” However, the Shawnee City Council was driven to act due to the inaction of the state or federal government to ensure such protections. 

These city ordinances are a step in the right direction, moving Kansas toward being a more inclusive state that ensures basic protections for all Kansans. And yet, the basic ability for all Kansans to be protected against discrimination should not be a matter that cities need to secure.

It is the responsibility of the state government to ensure the protection of all Kansas citizens — a protection the Kansas government has failed to provide. These cities have sparked the conversation regarding non-discrimination policies, and now it is time for the action of the Kansas government and even more so, the federal government. After all, at its core, this is an issue of protecting basic security, livelihood and freedom for every citizen.

Grace Brunner is a sophomore from Overland Park, Kansas, studying English and political science.