Topeka Gov. Kathleen Sebelius on Friday signed an executive order aimed at protecting state employees from workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
"We need to make sure in Kansas that all of our employees are treated with dignity and respect and that the doors of state employment are open to all," Sebelius said.
The order affects about 25,000 state employees, making it illegal to discriminate against those workers on the basis of whether they are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender.
Members of the Kansas Equality Coalition applauded Sebelius during a signing ceremony.
As she hugged members of the coalition, Sebelius remarked, "I'm sorry it took us so long."
The Kansas Democratic LGBT Caucus and the Human Rights Campaign also worked on the order. Andy Wollen, chairman of the Kansas Traditional Republican Majority, issued a one-sentence comment: "It's about time."
Sebelius said the action wasn't prompted by lawsuits or discrimination complaints, but that the state employee anti-discrimination policy was simply out of date.
State government already prohibited discrimination in hiring and employment based on race, ethnicity, gender, national origin and age. The executive order ads sexual orientation and gender identity to the list.
More than 30 states and 90 percent of Fortune 500 businesses have similar policies, as does the city of Lawrence. Kansas University has had a policy prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation for 30 years.
Maggie Childs, president of the Lawrence chapter of the coalition, watched Sebelius sign the order.
"Gay and lesbian and transgender people are now protected from losing their jobs because of hate or prejudice," Childs said.
Legislation to extend anti-discrimination protections in private employment and housing is before a state Senate committee. Sebelius said she supported that measure.
Childs said she believed Sebelius' action was a "first step" in getting the statewide legislation.
Cora Holt, a state employee, said she had been fired as an instructor at a private college after it became known she was a lesbian.
"The ripples from this are going to reach far and wide," Holt said of the executive order. "So many people will have a safety net that they didn't have before."
Dennis Dobson, who supervises a lab for the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, said the lack of the anti-discrimination policy held back employees.
"If you're not sure that somebody is going to have your back, then you're not willing to take risks to advance your job," he said.