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Olathe Passes LGBT Equality Measure But Falls Short of Adding Additional Legal Protection

Michelle Tyrene Johnson
KCUR 89.3
Olathe resident Chad Palmer looks on as the city council discusses a resolution to protect LGBTQ people from discrimination.

The Olathe City Council on Tuesday passed a resolution to promote diversity and equality in the city. However, many community members attending the meeting said it did not go far enough.

“A proclamation is nothing but lip service,” Olathe resident Chad Palmer told the city council, expressing that they needed to go further in making a stand against discrimination.

The measure passed by Olathe encourages the city to reject discrimination against any group, including on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity and to seek mediation with the city if there is an issue. But it falls short of the protections offered by non-discrimination ordinances passed in Merriam, Prairie Village, Roeland Park, Mission and Kansas City, Kansas.  

Council member John Bacon, who voted against the measure, said there was not enough opportunity to discuss it and that he didn’t think it was necessary.

“Some of the concerns I’m hearing from citizens, I’m not aware of. I hear them, but I’ve lived in this community a long time. And I’ve always known Olathe as a very loving community, and we treat everybody, or I treat everybody, the way I want you to treat me,” said council member Karin Brownlee, who also voted against the resolution.

However, Brett Hoedl, who chairs the area chapter of Equality Kansas, said mediation is encouraged but not required under the resolution, making it toothless.

“I’m frustrated because for two years you’ve had people coming in and asking about this,” Hoedl said to the city council. “This doesn’t provide protection, but it provides the illusion that there is protection.”

Mayor Michael Copeland and the other council members who voted for the resolution discussed how they would be willing to revisit the issue if the legislature failed to pass statewide protection for the LGBT community.

More than 60 people stayed until the end of the three-hour-long meeting to hear public comments on the resolution that the city council passed at the beginning of the meeting. Although most of the approximately 20 or so people who spoke supported a more pointed approach to LGBT discrimination, a few people spoke against the need to have a stronger anti-discrimination ordinance.

The United States Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage nationwide in 2015, but 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 protections.

Overland Park and Mission Hills are also considering non-discrimination ordinances protecting LGBTQ residents.

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. She can be contacted at michelle@kcur.org.

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