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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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”.