Topeka City Council to hear proposal on gay rights

Between the Westboro Baptist Church, the conservative lawmakers and the ban against same-sex marriage, the fight for gay rights is nearly non-existent in Kansas. However, a city councilperson in Topeka has emerged with determination to make Kansas an inclusive state.

Chad Manspeaker, Topeka City Councilperson, has proposed an expansion in the scope of the city’s Human Relations Commission that would include protection against discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

The main goal of the HRC is to educate the public on issues of discrimination and eliminate prejudice within the city of Topeka. By adding these two items to their agenda, the HRC would be able to further educate the public on the issues of prejudice against the gay community and take steps to prevent further discrimination.

“This is the first step toward a larger protection for the LGBT community,” Manspeaker said.

Manspeaker hopes to see the city of Topeka and the state of Kansas move toward becoming all-inclusive. Though he admits that the change won’t happen overnight, Manspeaker hopes this proposal might serve as a stepping stone. He ultimately hopes that Kansas will recognize same-sex couples and that those couples can enjoy the same benefits as any other couple.

“We want people to live freely in our community,” Manspeaker said. “And we can’t do that without these protections.”

The HRC approved the proposal in June with a 7-0 vote. However, it cannot be adopted as an official city code without the approval of the City Council. The council plans to hear the proposal this week and has set a tentative meeting for Sept. 17, to consider acting on the proposal.

If passed, the proposal will make Topeka one of only two cities in Kansas with anti-discrimination ordinances that include sexual orientation and gender identity. Currently, Lawrence is the only city to have such laws. Previously, Salina and Hutchinson had similar anti-discrimination ordinances, however, both were repealed in 2012.

The state of Kansas has several laws against the LGBT community. Not only does it ban same-sex marriage under state law but also under a constitutional amendment passed in 2005 that defines marriage as “a civil contract between one man and one woman only.”

In addition, Kansas laws have also made it impossible for same-sex couples to file joint taxes, receive married benefits or adopt children together.

Though the fight for gay rights has been slow for Kansas, Manspeaker encourages students to communicate their opinions to their city councils to speed up the process.

“Voices are very important with this cause,” Manspeaker says. “Every contact means something.”

For students, the news has instilled a sense of hope that Kansas may finally be on a path toward equality.

Tim Hewitt, a fifth-year senior from Arkansas City, Kan. and vice president of Delta Lambda Phi, sees this as a symbolic effort that could potentially lead to more legislation supporting gay rights.

“Since it’s happening in the state capital it’s definitely a visible place,” Hewitt said. “More and more cities in Kansas could follow and if there’s enough local support it could work itself up to the state level.”

Though Hewitt acknowledges that the state’s support of gay rights will indeed come slowly, he believes it will eventually come nonetheless.

But to do so, Hewitt thinks that we must first educate the public about the LGBT community to rid them of their preconceived judgments.

“It’s a good step,” Hewitt said. “But there’s still a lot of misinformation out there that is holding us back.”

Hewitt is hopeful that this ordinance, if passed, could diminish the overall public fear of people who are different.

“There are still people out there who are advocating for removing gays from society,” Hewitt said. “But if this ordinance can quiet those voices down, people can see that there is no difference between gay and straight and we can move on.”

  • Updated Sep. 9, 2013 at 5:48 pm
  • Edited by Casey Hutchins