Our country has made significant strides in the equal treatment of LGBT individuals. One year ago the Supreme Court ruled that The Defense of Marriage Act was unconstitutional, and weekly we read of rulings striking down same-sex marriage bans in states from coast to coast.
These events clearly demonstrate that treating LGBT individuals with dignity and respect and providing them with equal protections under the law is not an unrealistic expectation in our society.
Locally, Kansas State University, USD 383 and many private businesses have led the way by adopt-ing nondiscrimination policies that embrace and protect the LGBT community.
The equal treatment of the LGBT community is not con-troversial. These individuals are our family members, our friends, our neighbors, our co-workers, and yes, even our closeted city employees.
Last December, The Flint Hills Human Rights Project asked the Human Rights and Services Board (HRSB) to consider adding sexual orientation and gender identity to the City of Manhattan’s hiring policy. At that meeting. the HRSB asked city staff how this policy could be modified. City staff reported that the city manager has the authority to change the internal employment policy but would likely not do so without consult-ing the City Commission.
In March, The HRSB voted to ask the city manager to review the internal hiring policy, especially as it pertains to protected classes, to determine the consequences of including or leaving out protections for sex-ual orientation and gender identity.
The city manager presented the HRSB’s request to the commission at a briefing session in which there is no detailed agenda and no minutes are recorded. After this briefing, the city manager concluded that there was not sufficient interest to review the current policy.
As a result, this simple, nar-rowly focused but important modification to the city’s hiring policies was not placed on a commission’s legislative agenda. When asked during public com-ment on Tuesday, Mayor Wynn Butler defended the city mana-ger’s decision, stating that there is no evidence of any problems with the city’s hiring policy.
The circularity of this reason-ing is troubling, if not naïve. If we do not have a city employee hiring policy to protect against (and document) discrimination against LGBT applicants or employees, how can we reason-ably conclude that there is no problem?
If we want to talk about problems, it’s the City Commis-sion’s unwillingness to ack-nowledge that discrimina-tion happens and to talk about it at a legislative meeting where it would be incumbent upon commis-sioners (and the city mana-ger) to explain themselves.
We are a growing, thriving and increasingly diverse community, and our leaders should want to do whatever they can to ensure that discrimination does not happen to anyone in the process of being considered for employment or as an employee once hired.
We encourage the mayor and city commissioners to follow the lead of K-State, USD 383 and many local businesses and discuss the recommendation of its own advisory board to add sexual orientation and gender identity to the city’s hiring policies at a legislative meeting.