Archive for Monday, February 27, 2012

Salina considers changes to discrimination law

February 27, 2012


— Despite being born in a boy's body, Steven Mott knew from the age of 6 that he was actually a woman on the inside, but assumed the role he thought he had to to survive.

"Imagine entering into a play and assuming the role of character, not yourself," Mott told about 30 people Sunday afternoon in the Prescott Room of Salina Public Library. "You play the role all day long when on the stage and in front of people and, at the end of the day, you come out of the role, become yourself and then go to bed."

Mott said the "play" continued until he was a homeless 48-year-old alcoholic man in Pueblo, Colo. It was after alcohol treatment and therapy in Topeka that Steven started down the road to becoming Stephanie, the woman he always knew he was.

"I don't think I am a woman," Mott said. "I am a woman. I have a woman's brain. It is my gender identity."

Mott spoke to members of the public about her experience as a transgendered woman in Kansas.

Mott, chairwoman of the Kansas Equality Coalition, is backing a proposal to add sexual orientation and gender identity to protected classes to the city's equality ordinance.

The proposed change would add sexual orientation and gender identity to a list of classes protected from discrimination. The list includes race, sex, familial status, disability, religion, age, color, national origin and ancestry.

Mott said the change would protect people from being fired or evicted in Salina based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

The crowd featured a mixture of people for and against the change, but some people came to just ask questions and observe.

Mott said she wanted to give people the chance to talk with someone who has gone through the struggles of being transgendered in Kansas.

"We know people don't know what it is like to be transgender," Mott said before the meeting. "They don't understand what it is like to make the journey and why someone would do something like this. It is simple for me: live as a woman or die a man."

While taking questions from the audience after telling her story, one person asked whether there is evidence of discrimination in Salina. Mott said the city doesn't keep records about people not protected by their ordinances.

Gary Martens, chairman of the North Central chapter of the Kansas Equality Coalition, said several area people have approached the group about their experiences of discrimination in Salina.

"People are afraid of retaliation against themselves and maybe against their family if they speak up," Martens said. "While I can't say there is a list of people, I can say people have come forward to talk to us about this."

While the city doesn't have a record of instances of discrimination against transgendered, gays and bisexuals, Mott said it doesn't mean there is no discrimination.

"Look at the people fighting for the right to discriminate," Mott said. "They say 'we love you, but we would like the right not to hire you.' "

Rod Franz, Salina's city finance director, said the Federal Bureau of Investigation has determined Salina has "three times the national average of hate crimes." He said the FBI tracks hate crimes against everyone except transgendered people.

Cheryl Harp, of Salina, spoke out at the meeting about how she was discriminated against by her boss because of her age and being "too friendly." Mott told her she was protected by the current ordinance because of her age and sex.

Harp spoke at two prior meetings against the ordinance. She doesn't feel there is a need for the protections.

Mott said the changes to the ordinance would protect everyone in Salina.

"These are not special rights, these are equal rights," Mott said before the meeting. "People say this is about special rights, but it is not because everybody else already has them. Giving something that everybody else has is not a special right, it is an equal right."

When asked by Harp whether she had a penis or had had surgery to become a woman, Mott said she is scheduled for surgery in May.

When asked by Harp which bathroom she uses, Mott said the women's.

"I would be scared about going into the men's bathroom as a woman. I'd be afraid of being assaulted or laughed out," Mott said.

One woman in the crowd said she wouldn't notice Mott was transgendered if she encountered her in the bathroom.

Mott said she is always nervous when in a public bathroom, but feels she is in the right place as a woman.

"We are defined by who we are inside, not what is on the outside or our genitalia," Mott said. "It is the same as someone from a different ethnicity. What is out here doesn't matter. The only place where we decide who someone is, is on the inside. We can't change that. I will always be a woman. I am just bringing my body into alignment with who I am."


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