The Hutchinson City Council didn’t please everyone, but, then, we knew that would be next to impossible on a divisive issue such as anti-discrimination protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.
No matter how the decision had come down, city council members deserved credit for working their way through this issue and not running away from it just because it was so highly controversial. It took time and thoughtfulness. For some, if not all, of the council members, it may have been a gut-wrenching process. In the end, the city can be proud of how it handled the issue.
After much study and open community debate, the council voted 3-2 Tuesday morning to extend certain employment and housing protections to LGBT people. In limited situations, sexual orientation will become a protected class along with age, race, sex, religion and others.
Councilman Bob Bush was the swing vote, and he offered a compromise to find “common ground between two diverse groups to build a bridge so at least to give them acceptance as members of the community and live in some reasonable harmony.”
Judging by the reaction by the spokesmen for the two sides — the local chapter of the Kansas Equality Coalition, which was pushing for the new protected class, and the Kansas Family Planning Council, the chief opposition group — Bush’s approach was good. Neither side was completely pleased, but neither side walked away defeated either.
The measure, still to be drafted and officially approved as a city ordinance, basically would protect gay, lesbian and bisexual people from being fired or evicted from housing because of their sexual orientation. The compromise left out transgender people, and it left out equal rights for public accommodation.
These revisions eliminated some of the side issues that were complicating the debate. For example, much was made about transgender people using public restrooms. And churches were concerned about being required to rent their meeting rooms for gay functions.
The proposed solution zeroes in on the main examples of discrimination that were documented — gays and lesbians in employment and housing.
The ordinance could have gone further. Unfortunately, it limits claims of discrimination to losing employment or housing. It does not provide protection from an employer who discriminated in hiring or a landlord who won’t rent to someone in the first place because of sexual preference. Those are equally unacceptable forms of discrimination.
Bush and the majority should consider adding full employment and housing discrimination protections before the final vote on the ordinance.
— The Hutchinson News