Archive for Sunday, October 16, 1994

GAYS SEEK HUMAN RIGHTS INCLUSION

October 16, 1994

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A proposal to extend civil rights to homosexuals in Lawrence will reach the city commission this fall, supporters say.

More than 1,200 people want city officials to add two words to the city's basic human rights law:

Sexual orientation.

The signatures, collected for more than a year, support a community coalition's goal of extending the city's protection in housing, employment and public accommodations to gays, lesbians and bisexuals.

The coalition will ask Lawrence city commissioners to make the change later this fall, said Maggie Childs, spokesperson for Simply Equal, which represents more than 20 agencies and organizations active in Lawrence and Douglas County.

"We have quietly, slowly been talking to lots of people, and talking quietly to influential people to build up, slowly, an extollerable momentum to get this changed," Childs said. "It's still the cutting edge of social change."

Six years ago, after several heated meetings at city hall, commissioners refused to adopt a similar proposal. The 3-2 vote indefinitely postponed what had become, for many, the most contentious debate in years.

Jim Mullins then led an army of protesters as president of an organization called the Alliance of Citizens for Traditional Values.

Today, although the organization's gone, the computer-software salesman isn't surprised the issue's come up again. And again, he's still opposed to changing an ordinance that, in his view, has no need to be changed.

The human rights ordinance correctly protects people who cannot otherwise protect themselves, Mullins said.

"When you're white you're white. When you're black you're black. When you're 40 you're 40. When you're female you're female," he said. "These are unchangeable characteristics. You're born that way, or you can't change them.

"This is like putting in protections for fat people. `You can't discriminate against someone because they're fat.' Where does it end? Once you open Pandora's Box, you can't stop it."

Homosexuals, he said, don't deserve "special rights based on how they have sex," because that's a decision people make on their own.

Next thing you know, Mullins said, homosexuals will want approval for same-sex marriages, authority to teach homosexuality as a "normal behavior," and reduction of the age for sex with children.

"I'm not a bigot, and I don't want to discriminate against anybody," he said. "I'm just saying that once you start adding these people in, it's based upon depraved behavior."

But discrimination is a problem for homosexuals in Lawrence, said Ray Samuel, the city's human relations/human resources director. An ad hoc committee of the human Relations Commission said so six years ago, and there's at least anecdotal evidence today to support the conclusion.

Samuel, however, knows of no community in Kansas with a human-rights law that specifically protects people based on their sexual orientation.

"It becomes a big issue -- whether or not the city wants to take the lead in this," Samuel said.

At least for now, current city commissioners aren't ready to commit either way.

"There's good points and there's bad points both ways," Commissioner Bob Moody said. "At this point, I would need to consider what the ramifications are -- the enforcement aspects of it -- and go from there."

Commissioner Doug Compton: "I have to get a look at it. I can't make a comment on something I know nothing about."

Commissioner Bob Schulte: "I would need to see what the petition says."

Childs hopes city leaders will pass the new wording. More than 140 states and cities across the country -- including Kansas City, Mo. -- have enacted laws protecting gays from discrimination, according to Simply Equal.

Mayor Jo Andersen, who four years ago studied discrimination against homosexuals as a member of the city's Task Force on Racism, Discrimination and Human Diversity, said it would be up to the proposal's opponents to prove why the ordinance shouldn't be changed.

"If there's a problem, then we have to deal with it," Andersen said. "I'm going to keep an open mind."

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