Elle Boatman was scrolling through her Facebook news feed Tuesday afternoon during a break from her job at Wichita State.
There she learned that Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback had rescinded an earlier executive order by former Gov. Kathleen Sebelius that offered protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered state workers. Boatman is a transwoman and said she was floored by the news.
“I was really just devastated,” Boatman recalled on Wednesday.
She was later told that employees under the Kansas Board of Regents system would probably be covered by the schools’ anti-discrimination policies. But that did little to assuage her worries or the fears of other workers.
“It’s still extremely disturbing and scary because this is real discrimination. This could be tomorrow, they could be fired,” she said. “And so I was just floored for the rest of the day and quite honestly, I still am.”
Brownback’s executive order triggered anger and outrage across the country, with the news trending on Facebook, getting a #Brownbackwards hashtag on Twitter and garnering more signatures on a MoveOn petition calling for his recall. An opinion writer at the local paper called it “a stunning move of bigotry.”
The governor defended the move, saying any expansion of “protected” status should be done by the state legislature. State workers in Kansas are protected from discrimination based on race, color, gender, religion, national origin ancestry or age.
“This executive order ensures that state employees enjoy the same civil rights as all Kansans without creating additional ‘protected classes’ as the previous order did,” he said.
The move also triggered reactions from many officials, including Kansas City Mayor Sly James, who sent a Tweet with the hashtag #equality.
“LGBT COMMUNITY! You are welcome in Kansas City!” read James’ much-lauded message.
University of Kansas Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little issued a statement Wednesday reiterating the school’s commitment to its non-discrimination policy that includes sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression.
K-State’s president, Kirk Schulz, also reacted, saying he had received many questions following Brownback’s announcement.
“Despite what may be inferred from recent news reports, the university is not required to change this policy,” he wrote. “Our university governance bodies have endorsed principles that affirm the inherent dignity and value of every person while valuing diversity.”
Others promised that they would be moving out of Kansas. But not Boatman. She said she will stay because she’s dedicated to her work with Equality Kansas. And, finding another job in the state as a trans woman got much more difficult after Brownback’s announcement.
“As a transgender person I’m scared to death to have to go find that next job and the actions Brownback took … just make that even more terrifying for me,” she said.