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Prairie Village Approves Ordinance Barring LGBTQ Discrimination

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Praire Village city offices

Prairie Village City Council members debated the wisdom and scope of an LGBTQ non-discrimination ordinance and ultimately voted unanimously Monday night for a broader ordinance than it originally contemplated.

The suburban council took action where state and federal law hasn’t yet reached — barring discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity by the city, landlords and any business offering services to the public.

After being formally adopted in a roll-call vote in December, the ordinance should take effect in January, said Tucker Poling, a co-sponsor of the ordinance.

“We made a statement about who we are as Prairie Village,” he said. “We made a very emphatic statement tonight that we are an inclusive community.”

The council debated the ordinance for more than a month. It had been proposed only to include landlords who rented to at least four tenants and businesses with at least four employees. But the council changed the language to cover all rental housing and any business that serves the public.

The council also set fines for violating the non-discrimination rules at up to $1,000 or actual damages, whichever is greater.

In September, Prairie Village City Council members were scheduled to listen to public testimony on a proposed measure that would make it illegal to discriminate against members of the LGBTQ community. After six council members didn’t attend that session, the meeting was canceled and rescheduled for October.

At the October meeting, two dozen people spoke in a public hearing about the ordinance, most in overwhelming support.

Two people who spoke in opposition Monday night, each citing concerns about the safety of same-sex bathrooms in businesses. The ordinance does not address that issue.

Although the United States Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage nationwide in 2015, no federal laws protect LGBTQ people from discrimination in housing, employment and public accommodations.

Twenty-one states and the District of Columbia have laws prohibiting discrimination against LGBTQ people, and about 225 cities — including, Kansas City, Missouri — offer similar legal protection.

On the Kansas side of the metro, Roeland Park passed such an ordinance after several months of contentious debate in 2014. In June of this year, Wyandotte County became the first county in the state to pass such an ordinance, with no visible opposition. (Lawrence and Manhattan also have non-discrimination ordinances.)

Dan Runion, president of the City Council, said that he hopes the vote puts to rest concern that the city council was trying to get around passing the ordinance.

“We were in the process of trying to to get it right,” he said. “We would like to be the poster child for how we do it right and not be the poster child for having an ordinance we can’t enforce.”

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported that the Prairie Village City Council had adopted the ordinance. That will require a roll-call vote in December.

Michelle Tyrene Johnson is a reporter at KCUR 89.3 and part of the public radio collaborative Sharing America, covering the intersection of race, identity and culture. This initiative, funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, includes reporters in Kansas City, St. Louis, Hartford, Connecticut and Portland, Oregon.

Michelle is a reporter covering race, identity and culture and is an assistant talk show producer.
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