What city in Kansas is getting LGBT in a major way?
Did you guess the hometown of Westboro Baptist Church? Did you think we are talking about Topeka, Kansas? If you did, you are right. Topeka, Kansas is getting LGBT in a major way.
It all started last September when the Topeka City Council passed an ordinance proposed by Equality Kansas and sponsored by Councilman Chad Manspeaker expanding the scope of the mission of the Topeka Human Relations Commission (HRC).
The Topeka HRC's purpose is limited to educational programs which "support efforts to eliminate prejudice." This ordinance added sexual orientation and gender identity to the classes for which the HRC was empowered to support such efforts. In other words, the ordinance said that it was okay for the Human Relations Commission to help educate about prejudice against LGBT citizens.
Given the limited nature of the changes brought to the HRC, it was sad to realize that Councilwoman Sylvia Ortiz and Councilwoman Elaine Swartz both voted against the ordinance. They voted in favor of prejudice. Fortunately, the other six present council members voted in favor of the ordinance and against prejudice, and the ordinance passed.
On Nov. 20, Equality Kansas teamed up with the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Topeka (UUFT) and Equality House to hold a Transgender Day of Remembrance event. Equality House was re-painted in the colors of the transgender flag. Some 30 people braved the cold, damp, night air to remember the transgender people who lost their lives in the previous year due to pointless, hateful violence.
Last month, the UUFT came out of the proverbial closet to announce support for marriage equality, an amazing step forward for all human beings that was announced in an article in the May issue of Liberty Press.
On May 20, members of UUFT, Equality House, and Equality Kansas (and others) shared our truths and struggles as the Equality Package-aka Topeka Civil Rights Ordinance of 2014-was passed by a 5-3 margin by Topeka's City Council.
The Equality Package, which is actually two ordinances, has been in the works for several months as a collaboration between Equality Kansas of Topeka and Topeka City Councilman Chad Manspeaker. These ordinances are steps toward the day when we can see an end to legalized discrimination against LGBT citizens of Topeka.
The first ordinance establishes a domestic partnership registry in the City of Topeka. The second ordinance adds gender identity to the protected classes in the City of Topeka employment policy. In addition, this ordinance empowers the Topeka City Manager to contract for health care benefits for City of Topeka employees in same-sex relationships.
These are small steps, but they are steps. In an extremely emotional two hours of debate, the haters came out and did what haters do. Hate was prominently on display. But the thing about hate is that it looks like hate. Five members of the Topeka City Council were clearly able to see it for what it was.
Our thanks go out to Chad Manspeaker, who championed these ordinances in the Topeka City Council, as well as Nathan Schmidt, Karen Hiller, Michelle De La Isla, and Denise Everhart for recognizing that being an LGBT person does not make you less of a person. We are solidly on the road to a new tomorrow.
Speaking of a new tomorrow, on June 7, Interweave Topeka will be hosting a Pride Prom at UUFT (4775 SW 21st St), 6-10pm. It is open to LGBT people and allies. Tickets are $10 per person, $15 per couple. There will be a dinner, photos and a DJ.
Interweave is promoting activities in the Topeka area to establish a stronger community base. We hold monthly LGBT movie nights and are looking forward to starting family events this summer. Our goal is to provide a safe space and also have events of interest in Topeka so that people who are LGBT or allies don't have to leave Topeka to find something interesting to do.
In other exciting news, Equality Kansas of Topeka, UUFT, and Central Congregational Church of Topeka, are teaming up to host a Topeka Pride Parade and Picnic on Saturday, Sept. 6. The location has not yet been determined but we are planning a parade, food, music, drag performers, and some amazing speakers.
What city in Kansas has passed three LGBT inclusive ordinances in the last eight months, put on a nationally recognized TDOR event, has a church that declared support for marriage equality, is getting ready to have a Pride Prom, and is planning a Pride Parade and Picnic for September? That would be Topeka.
Stephanie Mott is a transgender woman from Topeka. She is the executive director of the Kansas Statewide Transgender Education Project, and a commissioner on the City of Topeka Human Relations Commission. Reach her at email@example.com.