Views from Kansas: More inclusive Kansas is better

Editor’s Note: Views from Kansas is a regular feature that highlights editorials and other viewpoints from across the state.

Kansas has much to gain by being more inclusive.

The state always should encourage the best and brightest workers to make Kansas their home, regardless of gender and sexual orientation. It’s an ethically and economically sound approach.

Gov. Laura Kelly acknowledged as much in her recent executive order reversing two Republican governors’ decisions to withhold employment discrimination protections from lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender state workers.

Kelly’s order prohibits state agencies from discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity when it comes to hiring, promoting, disciplining or firing employees. In pursuing as much, Kelly reinstated the protection a fellow Democrat, former Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, imposed in 2007 through an executive order.

Kelly’s order was broader, however, in also covering government contractors. Firms interested in doing business with the state should be required to adhere to such rules.

But the sensible decision to expand the ban on anti-LGBT bias irked right-wing legislators who fretted over perceived interference with the operations of private businesses. And, like former Gov. Sam Brownback, who in 2015 rescinded Sebelius’ original anti-discrimination order, conservatives in the Statehouse also argued that such policies should be pursued by legislators, not the governor.

Yet Democrat and Republican governors of other states have done the same and now prohibit LGBT employment discrimination. Those governors embraced the needed change, and with a sense of urgency.

In Kansas, the impact on economic development also warranted consideration.

More businesses nationwide — including most Fortune 500 firms — have sought the same protections for workers. Through sexual orientation and gender identity nondiscrimination policies, companies have opted to judge their employees on job performance alone. They understand and value workforce diversity.

And as many companies won’t set up shop in states that enable state-sanctioned discrimination, top-drawer professionals also won’t consider moving to places that tolerate bigotry in any form.

While the executive order from Kelly was an important step, forward-thinking states also should work toward new strategies that celebrate and support diversity in business.

As a so-called “flyover” state, Kansas already has inherent challenges and cannot afford to be viewed as backward and intolerant.

Basic human decency and compassion still matter in the Sunflower State. The governor’s recent executive order demonstrated as much and improved Kansas’ brand as a warm, welcoming state.

— Originally published in the Topeka Capital-Journal

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