Commission votes against including gender identity in Lawrence’s anti-discrimination policy

The Lawrence Human Relations Commission is recommending against adding gender identity as a protected status to the city’s anti-discrimination policy.

Following about an hour of discussion and public comment at Thursday’s meeting, a motion to recommend adding gender identity to the policy failed with three votes in favor and six against.

The Lawrence City Commission in May asked the Human Relations Commission to make a recommendation after a request by the Kansas Equality Coalition. The commission discussed the issue for several months and hosted a public forum in August.

Adding gender identity to the policy would have provided protections against discrimination for people who identify or express themselves as a gender other than the one assigned at birth. Examples include transsexuals or someone who has male biological traits, but presents himself as a woman, and vice versa.

Of the 13 community members who spoke during the public comment portion of the meeting Thursday, 10 stated opposition to adding gender identity to the policy.

The concerns mentioned included the expense of adding and enforcing changes in the policy, ambiguity in the language of the term gender identity, and concerns about how the policy would affect public facilities such as public restrooms and shower facilities.

Local attorney Tim Riling argued that a policy change could create a situation where a man, dressed as a woman, could enter a women’s restroom to assault a woman or child.

“If passed, the city would be facilitating people with criminal intent,” Riling said.

Maggie Childs, from the Kansas Equality Coalition, was involved in the original request to the city, and said she expected the commission to vote for a change to the policy.

“I’m very surprised by the vote,” she said following the meeting. “I’m speechless, really.”

Childs said the opposition at Thursday’s meeting was in contrast to the support voiced for adding gender identity to the policy at the public forum on the issue in August.

Commission Chair Lori Tapahonso said that in the next few months the commission will present a report to the city about its decision, and she expects the city to follow the commission’s recommendation not to make changes to the policy.