The city’s Human Relations Commission met with about 30 area residents Saturday morning at City Hall to further discuss adding gender identity to the city’s anti-discrimination policy.
Kansas Equality Coalition in March asked the city to add gender identity to the policy, which now protects Lawrence residents from discrimination based on categories such as age, race and sexual orientation.
Lori Tapahonso, commission chair, said the meeting’s purpose was to solicit feedback from residents and further educate the commission and residents about the issue.
“The commission as a whole had a lot of questions,” Tapahonso said about the initial proposal.
The addition of gender identity to the policy would aim to protect against discrimination in areas such as housing and employment for Lawrence residents who identify with a gender other than the one they were born into.
About a dozen people, mostly in support of adding the category to the city’s policy, spoke at the meeting.
The meeting became emotional at times as several transgender people discussed their personal experiences of discrimination based on their gender identity.
Stephanie Mott, a male-to-female transsexual who spoke at the meeting, said adding gender identity to the policy would go a long way in creating a more understanding community.
Mott said she’s been subject to employment discrimination and wants others to know that such discrimination has a significant impact on someone’s life.
“They just don’t know,” she said of those who lack personal experience on transgender issues.
During the meeting there was considerable discussion about what terminology a potential proposal would include, and community members made suggestions to the commission.
Concerns were expressed about whether further language was needed to include those discriminated against based not only on someone’s actual, but also perceived, gender identity status.
Two speakers at the meeting discussed potential problems with possible changes, including how the policy would address issues concerning the usage of restroom and showering facilities at area businesses.
Regardless of the final language on a possible proposal, Tapahonso said the main point is to ensure all Lawrence residents are protected.
“Our community should be discrimination-free. No question about it,” she said.
The commission will continue to consider language and potential repercussions of any proposal, and the commission plans to vote on a proposal at its next meeting on Nov. 19, she said.
If the commission approves a recommendation for changes to the existing policy, a city commission vote will be required before changes can be implemented.