Northeast Joco

Roeland Park puts off vote to ban discrimination for sexual orientation and gender identity

For the third time, the Roeland Park City Council this week pushed back a vote on whether the city should become the second in Kansas to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

The decision to put off a vote that had been scheduled for next Monday came after a workshop on the issue that lasted more than four hours Tuesday night.

The council had previously scheduled a vote for April, rescheduled it for May and then moved it again to next week. As the discussion ran past 11 p.m. Tuesday, it became clear the council would not be prepared to vote Monday. Instead, council members will continue discussing the ordinance following their regular business.

On Tuesday, they talked about clarifying exemptions, how complaints would be filed and investigated, and whether to establish a human rights committee.

Residents have previously said the proposed ordinance’s exemption for churches that hold public fundraisers was too vague. The primary concern is St. Agnes Catholic Parish, which holds an annual public fish fry.

With advice from city attorney Neil Shortlidge, the council changed the proposal to more clearly exempt religious institutions, nonprofits and other groups even if they are selling food or services.

The proposal also would exempt facilities that the city and county jointly operate or own: the aquatic center, sports dome and community center. Johnson County has no discrimination policy that matches the one Roeland Park is discussing.

Concerns about the aquatic center have been raised before. Last weekend a group called RP Citizens for Non-Discrimination placed fliers on houses, primarily in Wards 2 and 3, that said the proposed ordinance was “poorly constructed, does not provide for due process and is fiscally irresponsible.” The fliers also said it could let a man claim to be female and enter the women’s shower at the municipal pool.

Councilwomen Megan England and Jennifer Gunby, who together drafted the original ordinance, said that concern was misplaced because the proposal bars anyone from entering a segregated restroom for unlawful purposes. In an email prior to the meeting Gunby wrote that hundreds of cities have passed similar laws with success.

“None have experienced the terrible things that opponents have claimed would happen,” Gunby wrote.

“These concerns ignore the reality that transgender persons already share public bathrooms and showers with the rest of the population,” England wrote in a separate email.

The council talked Tuesday about which facilities transgender people should use. Councilwoman Mel Croston asked Sandra Meade, chairwoman of the Kansas Equality Coalition and a transgender rights advocate, why transgender people “don’t just have the surgery and not have to deal with this issue?”

Meade said surgery is expensive and time consuming.

“You have a socio-economic barrier there,” she said.

The meeting ended with a discussion about whether to establish a human rights committee, primarily to break down stereotypes through education and social functions. It also could hear complaints. Lawrence, the only city in Kansas to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity citywide, has a committee involved in the complaints process.

Some council members suggested that a human rights committee could replace the ordinance entirely.

“This just seems like a more humane way of building community,” Councilwoman Sheri McNeil said.

Mayor Joel Marquardt suggested voting on the ordinance before August, but some council members wanted to continue the discussion.

“My state on this all along is having a good ordinance and if that takes more time, it takes more time,” Councilwoman Theresa Kelly said.