By Megan Hart
A rally at the Statehouse on Saturday was one more stage in Kansas' long fight against discrimination, speakers told a crowd of hundreds.
Organizers in the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community arranged the protest on short notice after Gov. Sam Brownback announced Tuesday he would rescind an executive order issued by former Gov. Kathleen Sebelius preventing some state employees from being fired on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. Brownback framed the issue as an attempt to make sure all state employees had the same protections. Kansas law prohibits discrimination based on religion, race, gender and some other categories.
"This Executive Order ensures that state employees enjoy the same civil rights as all Kansans without creating additional 'protected classes' as the previous order did," Brownback said in a statement Tuesday. "Any such expansion of 'protected classes' should be done by the legislature and not through unilateral action."
To Tom Witt, executive director of Equality Kansas, removing the protection not only threatens some employees' livelihoods, but insults them and their work for the state.
"(Brownback) told every one of them that is L, G, B or T, 'I don't value you,'" he said.
Witt urged the crowd to continue protesting and to support HB 2323, which would add sexual orientation and gender identity to the state's anti-discrimination laws. The bill's sponsor, Rep. John Carmichael, D-Wichita, spoke during the rally about how Kansas and the United States have expanded equality over time to women, racial minorities, immigrants and people with disabilities.
"Our law still allows Kansans to be fired for who they love," he said.
Davis Hammet, director of operations for Planting Peace, which owns the rainbow-painted Equality House across the street from Westboro Baptist Church, emphasized many people in the LGBT community share the same concerns as straight people, including cuts to school budgets and alleged voter suppression. He also speculated that Brownback's decision to rescind the executive order might have been an attempt to distract attention from the state's budget deficit.
"I tell you the LGBT community is united with you on the issues you face," he said. "This is about humanity."
Alaura Pressgrove and Haley Myers, both juniors at Topeka High School, said they came to protest both what they saw as discrimination and budget cuts to their school district.
"Our state's moving backward, and we should be moving forward," Pressgrove said.
The Rev. Tobias Schlingensiepen of First Congregational Church United Church of Christ framed the issue as a religious one. He argued Christ had emphasized justice for marginalized people.
"The gospel according to Gov. Sam Brownback is not the gospel according to Jesus Christ," he said. "There is no question in my mind that if Jesus Christ came among us today, he would be standing with you."
Jacinda Street, of Topeka, said she thought the rally was a good show of solidarity. She carried a sign that said, 'If God hates gays, why are we so cute?'
"We stood together and showed that they can hate us, but we're going to respond with love," she said.