As a proud resident of Roeland Park for 35 years and as a Catholic journalist for several decades, one who follows closely church teachings, I applaud the Roeland Park City Council for passing the non-discrimination ordinance on Monday night.
Earlier in the consideration of this ordinance, it was quite disappointing to see church teachings used by opponents of this ordinance. At its core, this ordinance prohibits discrimination and has nothing to do with teachings on the nature of sacramental marriages. I could cite many Catholic Church official statements saying there should be no place for discrimination against the LGBT community.
Let me quote Pope Francis, who has said that gays and lesbians are “our brothers and sisters” who “should not be marginalized.” Asked about gay priests and their place in the church, he famously said: “Who am I to judge?”
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Opponents claim equal protections are unnecessary, as our city is free of discrimination. However, I am personally aware of at least three Roeland Park families, in these cases parents of gay and lesbian children reared in Roeland Park, who know full well discrimination does, indeed, exist in our community. Their children have lived with this discrimination, some of it expressed, some of it not, but all of it very hurtful, very marginalizing and very real in Roeland Park.
Throughout history, we as a nation became aware of discrimination, and as our collective consciousness grew we were moved to protect the vulnerable souls among us. Eventually, through law and help from the wider community, these once marginalized individuals gained a place to be recognized and included. Our LGBT brothers and sisters are asking for protection; in a wider sense, they are asking for us to value them as equal, contributing members of our communities. We must do all we can to show all members of our community they are accepted and we want them to participate. This is about who we are, who we claim to be and what we say together about our community.
Sometimes it is difficult to imagine how others might see Roeland Park, now or in the future. The city council stumbled at first when it came to this crossroad on July 21 and failed to pass the ordinance. Nonetheless, the full council considered the measure Monday and chose to broadcast a hopeful and much needed message to the corners of our state — and beyond. This victory is for all people, Roeland Parkers, Kansas Citians, Americans, people of the planet. We do “get it” here in our corner of so often maligned Kansas.
It’s a great day for Roeland Park; it’s an even greater day for all daring to become better people who long to be part of more compassionate communities. This day is larger than any of us have yet to imagine. A thunderclap filled with confidence and hope now goes out across the plains of Kansas and over the hills of Missouri from the Heartland: “NO to discrimination, YES to soul-warming acceptance.”
I continue to believe in the goodness of the people of Roeland Park. I continue to pray for our city council and mayor and the work they do to represents us and our hopes for the future. Today, I write with the hope that we are moving toward an even brighter tomorrow.
Tom Fox has been the Kansas City-based National Catholic Reporter editor and/or publisher most years since 1980. He and his wife, Hoa, live in Roeland Park.