District becomes more inclusive

Sexual orientation, gender identity now covered

By The Mercury

We support the Manhattan-Ogden Board of Education’s decision Wednesday night to add sexual orientation and gender identity to its nondiscrimination policy.

We do so despite some concern that including the two categories could increase the likelihood of a lawsuit against the district by someone who believes he or she has been discriminated against.

In amending its policy, the board went against the advice of the school district’s attorney and the Kansas Association of School Boards. Both are concerned that the district is expanding its legal liability by adding areas to the policy areas that are not required by law.

That risk hasn’t prevented Kansas State University and many other institutions of higher education from including sexual orientation and gender identity to their policies. Nor has it dissuaded Topeka’s USD 501 and a growing number of high schools in Kansas and other states from doing so. Sexual orientation and gender identity are even specifically included in the nondiscrimination policy of the Kansas Governor’s Office.

We support this policy despite having opposed a similar effort by the City Commission in 2011 because that short-lived policy — the new commission repealed it within months — involved a general mandate that reached into the realm of private businesses. In contrast, the district’s policy is limited to students and district personnel. What’s more, although the district’s policy does make it more vulnerable to a lawsuit, it is largely symbolic, a statement of principle — and one we agree with.

We don’t know how many people — students, faculty and other district employees — will be affected by the policy. That’s partly because gays, lesbians and transgender individuals aren’t as identifiable as, say, ethnic minority members and partly because some — too many — still live in society’s shadows.

What we do know is that they shouldn’t have to. These people have until now had little or no recourse against discrimination. And though we don’t know how often or how extensive that discrimination is, we know that it’s cruel, and it’s wrong. We come down about where Dave Colburn did at Wednesday’s meeting, when he said, “… it is my job to protect these kids.”

As for practical considerations, the issue of restrooms invariably surfaces whenever the issue of gender identity arises. That issue is something district personnel will have to resolve, but it’s hardly insurmountable or necessarily expensive.

Another issue, one that arises out of ignorance, is concern in some quarters that by including sexual orientation and gender identity in its nondiscrimination policy, the school district is somehow encouraging heterosexual youth to become homosexual or to alter their sexual identity. People don’t choose their sexual orientation or gender identity any more than they choose their race.

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