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City Of Independence, Missouri, Enhances Protections For LGBTQ Victims Of Assault

The ordinance update would include protections for those targeted for their gender identity or sexual orientation.
Carlos Moreno
KCUR 89.3
Independence's ordinance update includes protections for those targeted for their gender identity or sexual orientation.

The city's move to include more protections for LGBTQ residents is "an acknowledgment of a crisis," according to the Kansas City Center for Inclusion.

Independence, Missouri, updated its city code this week to include protections for people assaulted for their gender identity or sexual orientation.

Independence City Council voted unanimously on Tuesday to add language that enhances the penalty for assault targeting victims for those motives.

The city ordinance already includes protections for individuals targeted for their race, ancestry, religion, color, sex, marital status, age, national origin or handicap.

“I think that we're at a point in our society that people are much more open with their identity and prescribing certain language that helps them to identify and express who their true self is," said Independence Mayor Eileen Weir. "And I think it's very important that we make sure that that language is as inclusive as can be."

Weir said that much of the city code lacks that inclusivity, and should be changed in case it's needed for future cases.

“This is one in a series of things that we're reviewing to just update our language so that it is comprehensive and inclusive of everybody, certainly in our community,” Weir said.

Independence City Prosecutor Mitch Langford said at Tuesday’s city council meeting that, in his 19 years in that role, he has never used the ordinance pertaining to assaults of specific groups.

However, Langford said that he had a recent case where the language around gender identity and sexual orientation would have applied, had the updated ordinance been in place.

LGBTQ people are nearly four times more likely to be victims of violent crime than non-LGBTQ people, according to a 2020 study by the Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law.

Inoru Morris, president of the Kansas City Center for Inclusion, said that Independence's change gives LGBTQ residents an opportunity for justice.

“It is an acknowledgment of a crisis within our community, in terms of the violence that occurs,” Morris said.

As a Ph.D. student at the University of Kansas, Morris also researches LGBTQ communities and how they relate with government entities and the criminal justice system across the Midwest. He said that the ordinance will help more LGBTQ victims, who are often more distrustful of law enforcement, come forward and report crimes.

“It serves as a signal by the criminal justice system within the city limits of Independence, that we're turning a new page," Morris said. "And those of you who have been victims of this crime of this violence, we're going to take steps to ensure that the perpetrators of violence toward you are going to be held to account."

Morris said there's more room for progress in the city's policies, like ensuring government buildings have gender neutral bathrooms, as well as symbolism like flying a rainbow flag during Pride Month. Earlier this year, Independence City Council shot down a proposal to raise a Pride flag at city hall.

Justice Horn, vice-chair of the Kansas City LGBTQ Commission, said the update was overdue but "a historic first step."

Horn said that he doesn't anticipate protections for LGBTQ individuals on the federal level until the passage of the Equality Act, which is why these changes must come at a local level.

"I think it's important local governments like the city of Independence not wait to protect its people as well as our community," Horn said. "I applaud them for not waiting and seeing the urgency behind this."

Weir said that Independence's Human Relations Commission continues to work through its code for opportunities for more inclusive language. The city council is set vote next week on the commission’s recommendation to ban conversion therapy, a widely-debunked process that aims to change the sexual orientation or gender identity of LGBTQ individuals.

Kansas City, Missouri, voted to ban conversion therapy for LGBTQ minors in 2019.

More than ever, education lies at the intersection of equity, housing, funding, and other diverse issues facing Kansas City’s students, families and teachers. As KCUR’s education reporter, I’ll break down the policies driving these issues in schools and report what’s happening in our region's classrooms. You can reach me at jodifortino@kcur.org.
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