The Roeland Park City Council has voted down a proposal to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, but the debate may not over.
After months of discussion and more than an hour of public comment Monday night, the council defeated the measure on a 4-3 vote.
Council members Sheri McNeil, Michael Rhoades, Mel Croston and Marek Gliniecki voted against. Jennifer Gunby, Megan England and Teresa Kelly voted in favor. Becky Fast was absent.
A visibly upset Gliniecki said before the vote that the thought of disappointing anyone caused him great distress. Gliniecki, a Catholic, said he would vote “no” because it did not fit church doctrine, but the decision was not easy.
“This was very hard for me,” he said. “I’m afraid it will affect my relationships.”
Croston said in the past months she and Fast had been threatened and harassed. Eggs were thrown at her house and at one point someone drove by and yelled at her, she said.
McNeil echoed Gliniecki saying her decision was difficult, but she was representing the people of her district. McNeil said the debate over the law had broken up the city.
“This has been heartbreaking,” she said before the vote. “I want to go back to the warm feeling of Roeland Park.”
The law would have prohibited discrimination in employment, housing and public service because of race, religion, color, sex, disability, national origin, ancestry, sexual orientation, gender identity or military status.
Most of those protections mirror state and federal laws, but sexual orientation and gender identity were unique to only one other city in Kansas: Lawrence. Across the state line, Kansas City has a similar law. In May, Topeka passed a law that bans the city from discriminating in hiring based on gender identity.
Despite the loss in Roeland Park, Sandra Meade, state chair of Equality Kansas, said her organization’s fight for equality is not over in Johnson County. Meade said her group has had informal conversations with at least three other Johnson County cities, but would not say which ones.
“We have to move forward,” she said. “It’s unfortunate these cities have to have the struggles among themselves because this should be state or federal issue.”
Merriam city councilman, Al Frisby, who attended some of the Roeland Park discussions, said he would support a similar ban on discrimination in his city. But now that Roeland Park denied the law, he said, it’s hard to know if a similar law would pass in Merriam.
“We were really waiting for Roeland Park,” he said.
Frisby said it’s unlikely the Merriam council will bring a discrimination ordinance up without another Johnson County city passing a ban first.
Denise Rendina, communications manager for Lenexa, said her city has no proposals for a similar ban. Quinn Bennion, city administrator in Prairie Village, said an anti-bias law has not been a recent topic of discussion. A councilmember could be looking into the matter, he said, but no one has said anything about it.
Dan Ferguson, communications manager with Shawnee, also said his city has had no conversations about a discrimination law.
Back in Roeland Park, Mayor Joel Marquardt said now that the council has defeated the ordinance, the next step is to look at an additional proposal for a resolution and a human relations committee.
“We made a pledge to the people to look into that,” he said.
The resolution makes the statement that “Roeland Park shall continue to be a place of equal opportunity for all,” but has no legal backing to ban discrimination.
The plan has had some support from residents who said getting together and celebrating diversity was the best way to end discrimination.
Resident JoAnna Rush passed out a flier promoting the resolution following Monday’s vote. In it she wrote that no one is being discriminated against in Roeland Park, and for that reason residents support a resolution.
“When we get to know one another and begin to see the person, we grow and break down stereotypes, barriers and bias,” the flier read.
Councilman Gliniecki proposed the resolution, which also calls for the creation of human relations committee, in June. The proposal would establish a 10-member committee, which would include Roeland Park residents, businesses owners and members of Equality Kansas, Kansas Family Policy Council and American Civil Liberties Union, or similar groups. The committee would plan events centered on equality and diversity.
Support for this idea was mixed on the council. Councilwoman McNeil and previously said she would support a committee and resolution over the ordinance because a law seemed forceful.
“This just seems like a more humane way of building community,” she said at a June 9 meeting.
Councilwomen Kelly and Gunby disagreed, saying a human relations committee without the ordinance would simply be a copy of the city’s events committee, which already plans community-oriented events.
For members of Equality Kansas, these measures are not enough. Meade said Equality Kansas would certainly support a resolution, but it’s not the same as a ban on discrimination.
“Saying nice things only works if there’s something behind it,” she said.
Michael Poppa, the Kansas City metro chairman for Equality Kansas, hugged supporters after the vote. He said a general statement against discrimination or a human rights committee would not have carried the same weight.
“Getting together around a barbecue is not going to solve our problems,” he said.
A Roeland Park resident, Poppa said he believed a majority of residents supported the ban but a vocal minority had a greater influence.
No formal poll of Roeland Park residents was done, and public comment at previous meetings was decidedly split. More than 40 people spoke Monday night, but fewer than 10 were against the ordinance banning discrimination.