Metro Weekly

Kansas governor rescinds protections for LGBT state employees

Sam Brownback - Credit: Official Portrait

Sam Brownback – Credit: Official Portrait

Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback (R) rescinded an executive order Tuesday issued nearly eight years ago that protected LGBT state employees from discrimination. 

Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, a Democrat who left office in 2009 to become President Barack Obama’s secretary of Health and Human Services, issued the executive order in August 2007 instructing all state entities under the jurisdiction of the governor to prohibit discrimination and harassment on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.

Brownback’s executive order issued Tuesday effectively cancels the one signed by Sebelius. “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,” the Republican governor said in a statement. “Any such expansion of ‘protected classes’ should be done by the legislature and not through unilateral action.”

Brownback’s decision to revoke protections for LGBT state employees comes more than four years since he assumed office in 2011 and was greeted with outcry by LGBT-rights advocates.

“Discrimination against State of Kansas employees, in every state agency, is now permitted under Brownback’s order,” said Thomas Witt, executive director of Equality Kansas, in a letter to supporters. “This action by the Governor is an outrage. Gay, lesbian, and transgender state employees across Kansas have trusted they would be safe from discrimination and harassment in their workplace but Sam Brownback has, by erasing their job protections, declared ‘open season’ on every one of them.”

HRC National Field Director Marty Rouse labeled Brownback’s move a “direct assault” on equality. “This is a dramatic reversal for Kansas,” Rouse said in a statement. “For eight years, LGBT state employees have been guaranteed non-discrimination protections and in one foul, reckless, and shameful decision, Governor Brownback has taken the state backward. His deplorable behavior is a direct assault on fairness and equality in the state.”

Brownback, a former senator and presidential candidate, has been a vocal opponent of same-sex marriage. Kansas, which is in the 10th Circuit, is one of the states impacted by the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision last year declining to hear arguments in cases challenging same-sex marriage bans in five states — Utah, Oklahoma, Virginia, Indiana and Wisconsin — thus allowing lower court decisions legalizing marriage equality in those states to stand. In November, the Supreme Court declined to halt same-sex marriages from proceeding in the state.  

“It is a sad day for Kansas,” Witt added, “not just for the LGBT community, but for our friends, our families, and our co-workers whose jobs are now at risk.”

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Justin Snow is Metro Weekly's former political editor and White House correspondent. Follow him on Twitter @JustinCSnow.

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