City panel gathers information about transgender issues

Community members discuss proposed change to anti-discrimination policy

Members of the transgender community spoke to about 40 people Thursday night at a forum aimed at increasing awareness about transgender issues.

The forum was hosted by Plymouth Congregational Church, 925 Vt., and followed a showing of the 2004 documentary film, “Call me Malcolm,” about a transgendered seminarian student.

Several members of the city’s Human Relations Commission attended the gathering as part of an information-gathering process about a proposed change to the city’s anti-discrimination policy, said Commission Chair Lori Tapahonso. The commission was asked by the City Commission in May to study a proposal to add transgender identity status to the list of protected categories in the city’s anti-discrimination policy.

“As a group, we wanted to fully understand the issue,” Tapahonso said. After further study, the commission will make a recommendation to the City Commission regarding any possible changes to the policy. Tapahonso said that there is no timeline for the process, but that the issue would be discussed publicly at an Aug. 19 meeting.

Transgendered individuals include people who identify with a gender other than the one they were born with. Including such a category in the policy would provide protections against discrimination based on gender identity in the same ways that other categories such as race and age are protected.

Brad Kemp, a member of the Kansas Equality Coalition, the organization that brought the proposal to the City Commission in May, said he attended the forum in hopes of providing the commission with more information on gender-identity issues and raising awareness in the community about such issues.

Kemp said adding transgender identity to the list of protected categories is a step in the right direction for equal rights within the city and in Kansas.

“It’s just unfair,” Kemp said of the current absence of the status as a protected category.

Lawrence couple Jay and Jessica Pryor were both on the panel and spoke about some of the issues of discrimination that those in the transgender community face. Jay is a female-to-male transsexual, which means he was born a woman but has transitioned to a man. He said that providing legal protections for the transgender community is one way Lawrence can make a statement about the value of all citizens.

“To have it (transgender identity) in the ordinance means safety,” Pryor said. “Not everybody has that.”