Few people would be surprised to see Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback refuse to expand protections for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender citizens. He is a religious conservative who has long opposed marriage and other civil rights for those groups.
But Brownback’s action this week to remove protections for state workers was shocking and ugly. It will harm Kansas in significant ways.
Brownback rescinded a 2007 executive order by then-Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, a Democrat, protecting state workers from being harassed, discriminated against or fired because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
This week’s move is grossly unfair to workers, some of whom felt safe disclosing details about their sexual identity only because of the executive order. It will further demoralize a workforce that must deal with subpar pay and an overtly political environment fostered by the Republican governor and his top aides.
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Brownback’s action also flies in the face of his assertions that job growth and reversing the state’s population decline are all-important priorities.
Other states are expanding protections to gay, lesbian and transgender citizens, in part because it’s a good business strategy.
Though his order affects only state employees, Brownback has signaled that, as the state’s leader, he does not value the work or the security of persons who can be placed at risk because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
That message will be heeded by private-sector employers who are looking for a welcoming climate for workers.
And it will be noticed by college students and young adults who place a high value on equality for persons of all sexual orientations. Their generation is seeking opportunities in creative, diverse environments. Brownback’s edict portrays Kansas as rigid and intolerant.
The governor’s rationale is that the Legislature, not the governor, should decide whether to confer protections on a group of citizens. But a spokeswoman told reporters he doesn’t intend to ask lawmakers to do so.
Brownback is wrong. A solid majority of states, including Missouri, protect gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender employees, many through a governor’s order. More than 90 percent of Fortune 500 companies also have policies protecting those workers against discrimination or harassment. It is very much an executive’s prerogative.
Brownback seems to think his prerogative is to move Kansas backward, and create fears and stress for people who only want to do their jobs. The citizens of Kansas should speak up forcefully to tell the governor and the rest of the nation that this show of intolerance is not what their state is about.