Manhattan, Kansas: First City in State To Add Gender Identity to Anti-Discrimination Laws, Also Adds Sexual Orientation

Not in any of the national, well-read LGBT blogs and other sites have I seen this mentioned today, but I think it’s pretty amazing because it’s happening in my old home state, and in the very town where I spent a couple of college years and also came out.  This is Kansas, mind you, old, forever Republican Kansas, which now has Sam Brownback, once part of DC’s C Street gang, as its new governor; Kansas, home to notorious religious clan, whose name I won’t mention because I don’t want them trying to mess with my blog; Kansas, with its conservative State Board of Education, which tried to get “creative” with science . . . . .

But today from the Manhattan (KS) Mercury, we find this good news: 

After months of research, discussion and debate, city commissioners passed the second and final reading of a proposed amendment to the city’s discrimination ordinance at Tuesday’s legislative meeting. The change adds sexual orientation and gender identity to the list of protected classes.

Tuesday’s vote makes Manhattan the first city in Kansas to recognize gender identity as a protected class. It also makes Manhattan the second city in the state, the other being Lawrence, to recognize sexual orientation as a protected class.

Even in a state as conservative as Kansas, changes are being made to prevent discrimination against LGBT people.

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Taking a Drive Out 529: Leaving Suburbia for the Open Road, a Bit of History, and Adam Lambert

F.M. 529 in Waller County, the cars are far and few between.

When I was a kid, sometimes on a Sunday afternoon, my dad would say,  “Do you want to go for a drive?”  We’d all pile into the car (the “we” that I recall most was just Dad, Mom, and me, because I was the youngest and the last one left at home) and head in some direction from the farm.  I suppose there were times when Dad had a particular destination in mind, but often we’d just take out and go wherever the car, and our whims, decided, driving for a couple of hours, looking at the  “sights”.  On some drives, we’d drop by a relative’s house or get an ice cream cone, but usually, we just drove, finally arriving back home.

I still like taking drives.  Wherever I’ve lived, I’ve often gotten into the car and just headed out without a clear destination, just enjoying the countryside and small towns I pass through.  Even though I now live in the suburbs, I still enjoy driving where the houses disappear and in their place are lines of trees, open pastures full of grass, and cool streams snaking through the countryside.

Since I’m on vacation right now, but still enthralled with having my own house and not wanting to take a real vacation, today I headed west on S.H. 529, the highway that is about a half mile from my home.

From Highway 290 to near where I live, F.M. 529 (F.M. = Farm to Market.  F.M. highways in Texas are usually shorter than S.H. roads (S.H. = State Highway) is 3 lanes each way, but as I drove west a few miles, it became 2 lanes each way, and once out of suburbia, it’s only a 2-lane road.

When you reach Stockdick School Road, you've definitely left suburbia. I took a detour down that road just because of the sort of provocative name. I didn't find any school, or anything else either.

In Bellville, you find one of the strangest courthouse-highway arrangements; Highway 36 divides to go on either side of the courthouse. There is a quaint shopping area on the courthouse square, but maneuvering this "roundabout" might prove difficult for a driver passing through this town for the first time.

I took some detours here and there, just to check out the “sights”, but finally ended up in Bellville, a cute county seat town about 30-35 miles from my house.  (Bellville is the county seat of Austin County, named for Stephen F. Austin and is steeped in Texas history.)

Despite the heat, the drive was just what I needed to get a taste of the country air and do some thinking.

The bridge passing over the Brazos River between Hockley and Bellville. This spot doesn't make the river look very impressive, but it does appear that this dead end river road is a favorite place for making out and drinking beer.

With the radio playing the whole drive, I  started  remembering about when driving between cities, the only stations that you could tune in were local AM stations playing country western music or the drone of fire and brimstone preaching.  As I was on a stretch of road between Hockley and Bellville (not on 529 then), Mix 96.5 started playing Adam Lambert’s new song, “If I Had You.”  I thought how much things have changed; even a gay kid stuck out in the middle of nowhere at least can listen to Adam Lambert and know somebody gay who is successful.  And that’s a good thing.

This little road trip today was also a good thing.  I didn’t or couldn’t stop every place that I wanted to take a photo; some places there just wasn’t anywhere to pull over and as it got after noontime, the heat made me just want to stay in with the cool AC.

Off of 529 east of Bellville, after driving through a tree-covered country lane, you'll find Pilgrims Rest Cemetery. Many of the stones in this cemetery, which is marked as a Texas historical site, have German and Czech names, some of the inscriptions in the original language. Down 529, there's a smaller, older-looking cemetery of the same name.

A stop to take a look at a historical marker proved to be the discovery of a Texan I had never heard about. Norris Wright Cuney was the son of a plantation owner and one of his slaves. He later became important in Republican politics in the latter part of the 19th Century.

You can read the inscription on this historical marker here.  This certainly gives a glimpse into what was once part of Texas history and politics, and perhaps the remnants still exist.

This old country church in Austin County doesn't appear to have services anymore, but its condition shows that its still being taken care of. You'll also find for-sale mega-mansions located on ranchettes as well as a couple of rural meat markets along this quiet strip of road.

Scattered alongside 529 in western Harris and eastern Waller Counties are any number of small- and medium-sized plants.

“Did you learn to be a bigot or were you just born that way?”–One of the Best Lines from the Speeches at the National Equality March in Washington

The crowds at the National Equality March in Washington, D.C.

The crowds at the National Equality March in Washington, D.C.

I wish I could give credit for the quote in the title for this post, but it was given by one of the speakers at the National Equality March for LGBT rights, that’s taking place today in Washington, D.C.  Between checking out the NFL scores, I couldn’t find anything on CNN or MSNBC that showed the event.  Then with a mistaken click, there it was, right on C-Span.

I think going to the march would have been a great experience, but like so many other people, the cost of time and money just seemed too prohibitive.  Watching the speakers, though, on TV has been heart-stirring.  When I clicked on C-Span, actress Cynthia Nixon was speaking, and she, in turn, introduced, Judy Shepard, mother of murdered Wyoming college student Matthew Shepard.  A number of lesser-known local and state officials were just as inspiring, especially an openly-gay state senator from Utah.  (I’ll have find out more about him later.)  Lt. Dan Choi, the Arab linguist, who was kicked out of the Army because of DADT, and Lady Gaga, the pop diva, exemplify the range and demeanor of the speakers, but both demanding that President Obama take action on his promises.

Lt. Dan Choi, Army Arab linguist, who was kicked out of the military because of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell"

Lt. Dan Choi, Army Arab linguist, who was kicked out of the military because of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell"

Maybe watching from my comfortable sofa isn’t the same as being part of the multitudes of participants there in D.C., but still I could feel the emotion of the event.  It gives me hope that change will happen.  But just like what people are asking of Obama, there has to be action, not just words.

Pop singer, Lady Gaga, speaking at the National Equality March and asking President Obama to take action.

Pop singer, Lady Gaga, speaking at the National Equality March and asking President Obama to take action.

I’m starting by writing to my conservative congressman.  It may not be worth it; I’ve done it before, and somehow his people now think I’m a republican.

Hate Crimes Legislation vs. Marriage Equality

Appalled is the only way to describe my reaction yesterday when I saw the C-Span clip of Virgina Foxx, the Republican Congresswoman of North Carolina’s Fifth District during the debate of the hate crime legislation. This former college president and English professor said that the fact that Matthew Shepard was murdered because he was gay was a hoax. (She has since tried to backtrack on her words.) The fact is gay people in this country are attacked and killed because of their sexual orientation here in the U.S. In some cases, gay people are targeted because they seem to some to be “easy pickings” and the real motivation for the attack is pure harassment or robbery or even rape.

There was a rash of attacks on gay people here in Houston in the 90s, one of which was the murder of Paul Broussard, which happened near where I lived. If you’ve never read about this case, I recommend that you read this article or for a slightly different perspective look here.

It only takes reading the gay press online to know that these attacks are still happening today. I can’t say what percentage of gay people have experienced physical attacks or the threat of being attacked, but I would guess that it’s a high percentage, from attacks in schools to attacks in the street to attacks at home.

In spite of all these attacks (I’ve experienced it myself as I’ve mentioned on my about page), I don’t really support hate crimes legislation. If someone is attacked, they are attacked and the perpetrator should be punished. If someone is murdered, the killer should be tried and punished according to the law, not because of who was killed but because murder is murder no matter who the victim is.

I agree with some in Congress who ask how do we determine which groups should be covered under hate crimes. Ours is a democracy and everyone should be treated equally, no slippery slopes.

And that is the rationale of those people who are against hate crimes legislation: they do not want to have to give special treatment to certain groups.

But where is that rationale when it comes to Marriage Equality? Those who are against marriage equality certainly favor the idea of a special status for heterosexual people. And those against same-sex marriage are not just limited to the evangelicals and other Republicans.

How would all of those who voted in favor of the hate crimes bill have voted if the bill were for legalizing same-sex marriage? I doubt that the majority would have voted for it. While many of these representatives may feel they are doing the right thing, this type of legislation is not the answer to stopping the attacks and murders of gay people, nor of any other group of people. It’s no different than putting that metal plate over the construction hole in the street. You can drive over the hole, but it’s still there and eventually needs to be fixed.

The only real “fix” here is to change the attitudes of individuals and of society as a whole. It’s very hard to change ideas when they have been pounded into someone’s head from an early age.

But the government can do that by making laws that bring equal rights to all citizens. (We’ve seen this when slavery was abolished, when women were given the right to vote, when mixed race couples were allowed to marry.) I don’t know if people who have not been denied rights can understand this. I’m pretty sure that most women can understand this; I’m pretty sure that people of many ethnic minorities can understand this; I know that almost every gay person knows this. Even with the election of Barack Obama, the majority of our elected officials are still heterosexual white men, and most of them do not understand what it means to be discriminated against and do not want to understand it. Because if they were to make the playing ground equal for everyone, they might lose some of their power.

Putting specific groups into hate crimes laws does not make people of those groups any stronger. It weakens them by saying they need special protection, and in reality, is a way of keeping them second class citizens.

Instead what the government needs to do is enact and enforce laws, such as for marriage, labor, and immigration, that give all citizens their due rights under the Constitution.

We can only hope that people like Virginia Foxx, who are against giving special status to any citizens through hate crimes legislation, would also realize that by expressing that viewpoint, they are advocating equal status for all citizens and, thus, would support bills that provide that equality: legislation in favor of same-sex marriage and the elimination of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”.