Dignity is a mainstream value

MainStream's founding issue is the separation of church and state, and as part of that, demanding respect for the rights, freedoms, and beliefs of all individuals. Freedom is not, as some extremists would have you think, the right to do what you will, where you will. Rather, freedom is the right to not be subjected to the morality and beliefs of others. It is why we have always stood for civil rights and against discrimination in any form. It is why we are excited to see and support the wave of LGBTQ+ non-discrimination ordinances (NDOs) being proposed and passed in northeast Kansas these last few months. But it is not enough.

Lawrence, Manhattan, Wyandotte County, and Roeland Park all have NDOs in place. In 2014, when Roeland Park faced a contentious process to get it done, MainStream worked to support the efforts of city council members, Equality Kansas, and others. This year, Wyandotte County quietly passed an NDO, the city of Mission has proposed one, Merriam is considering it, and Prairie Village completed the process last night! We are thrilled to see this work being taken on at the municipal level, and applaud the people working hard to see ALL Kansans protected.

At the State level, Gov. Sebelius an executive order in 2007 protecting LGBTQ+ state employees, which was rescinded in 2015 by Gov. Brownback. Governor-Elect Kelly has already announced that she will reinstate it when she takes office in January. But this executive action only applies to employees of the State of Kansas. Millions of Kansas remain unprotected.

Equality Kansas, the statewide LGBTQ+ advocacy organization, has given notice that it intends to push for statewide protections for ALL Kansans, through action in the Kansas Legislature. MainStream will support this effort, and we hope Kansans can lead the way when it comes to supporting the dignity of our neighbors, friends, and family.

But there will be pushback. Of course we expect it from extremists like the Culture Shield Network, currently busy attacking the Wichita Public Library for an inclusive and empowering reading event. Others will fight the basic decency of a statewide NDO with more subtle, but no less discriminatory arguments. You only have to look as far as a statement released by Kansas Sen. Mary Pilcher-Cook to see the insidious nature of these notions.

Sen. Pilcher-Cook opens by arguing that, because you can't tell someone is gay by looking at them, non-discrimination ordinances will instead cause unjust discrimination and lead to rampant lawsuits. In short, if homophobes can't tell the person they are discriminating against is gay, how can they be expected to moderate their stance? She argues, in essence, that it's easy to avoid discriminating against brown people, old people, or female people, because you can see that they're brown, old, or female. But because "sexual inclinations" cannot "adequately describe" a person, well, who can be blamed?

"Sexual inclinations," of course, implies her belief that sexual orientation and gender identity are choices, a disproven opinion that dehumanizes LGBTQ+ individuals, who often choose to come out in spite of the incredible difficulty of doing so, for them in their families and communities.

But the entire thrust of her statement is that non-discrimination ordinances will hurt those people who inadvertently discriminate against LGBTQ+ individuals because of their deeply held religious beliefs, subjecting those people to "unjust discrimination." But "religion" is a protected class in Kansas, along with race, age, and gender. Those last three pass her eye test above, but does religion? Can we tell someone is religious, by looking at them? Can we "adequately describe" a person by their religion? Of course not. So can we be blamed if we inadvertently discriminate against someone's religion because, who knew their religion hates gay people? (Not everyone is as obvious as the Westboro Baptist Church.)

It's patently ridiculous.

First, she argues that because we can't see the LGBTQ+ in a person, it's not fair to homophobes. Second, she implies the age-old argument of the homophobe, that being LGBTQ is a choice, and shouldn't be protected. If they don't like discrimination, the idea goes, they can just make a different choice. And third, she bemoans the fate of people who discriminate because their religion tells them to, calling their comeuppance "unjust discrimination."

The simple truth

We're being a little tongue in cheek here, of course, in pointing out the fallacy of the arguments Pilcher-Cook and others put forward. But the simple truth is this: no person should be discriminated against for aspects of their person over which they have no choice. Skin color, age, cultural history, gender or gender identity, sexual orientation, and so on. This is undeniable. Suffering discrimination because of who you are leads to a devastating loss of dignity that no person should countenance.

This is why the MainStream Coalition always has, and always will, support the equality of all Kansans under the law.

Remember, it starts here. With you. Do more than vote.

Two notes for our readers:

1. MainPAC, the political action committee of the MainStream Coalition, endorsed Reps. Cox and Karleskint in the Republican primary in August of 2018, both of whom voted in favor of the "Adoption Protection Act," LGBTQ+ discriminatory legislation that passed and was enacted into law. MainPAC felt bound to offer Republicans guidance on who was their better choice in that primary, as both candidates ran against more extreme anti-equality candidates. In the General election, MainPAC did not endorse either of them, and instead endorsed their pro-equality opponents.

2. Former MainStream Executive Director Boo Tyson and Equality Kansas Executive Director Tom Witt spoke to us recently about the initial formation of Equality Kansas in 2005. MainStream helped to moderate the process of gathering local groups under one statewide umbrella organization. We are proud to have had a hand in creating a strong presence for equality advocacy in Kansas.

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