TOPEKA — An LGBT activist and Democratic legislative leaders shared disappointment Friday with Gov. Jeff Colyer’s decision to sustain his Republican predecessor’s dismantling of an executive order prohibiting discrimination of state employees based on gender identity or sexual orientation.
Colyer, who replaced Gov. Sam Brownback in January, said his administration opposed discrimination of people working in state government. He offered no expectation of flipping Brownback’s 2015 order rescinding workplace protections for gay, lesbian and transgender employees adopted in 2007 by Democratic Gov. Kathleen Sebelius.
“We will not tolerate discrimination,” Colyer said. “If there’s an issue of discrimination, come to me. We’ll deal with it.”
Colyer also said the state prohibited employer discrimination through policy and law.
Thomas Witt, executive director of Equality Kansas, said the governor inaccurately declared workers at state agencies were shielded from abuse associated with gender identity and sexual orientation.
“It is not the policy or the law of Kansas. Brownback repealed the policy. If Gov. Colyer is serious about rooting out discrimination, he would reissue the executive order," Witt said.
Without the power of an executive order or state law, it has been legal for agencies during the Brownback and Colyer administrations to dismiss or deny jobs to people for no other reason than that they were gay, lesbian or transgender.
House Minority Leader Jim Ward, a Wichita Democrat and candidate for governor, said the debate exemplified Colyer’s preference for the status quo established under Brownback.
“You can’t legally nuance the question of whether or not you’re going to allow discrimination in your state based on who people love,” Ward said. “This is about treating people with respect.”
Discrimination in state government jobs in Kansas is prohibited in regards to age, ancestry, national origin, religion, gender, color and race.
In 2015, Brownback defended his action replacing Sebelius’ executive order with one of his own because Sebelius created a new “protected class” within the realm of civil rights. Brownback and Colyer have been opponents of same-sex marriage.
Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, D-Topeka, said Brownback’s position on discrimination related to sexual orientation or gender identity added controversy to the U.S. Senate confirmation process for Brownback's nomination to be President Donald Trump’s ambassador of international religious freedom.
“I believe Sam Brownback made one of the worst decisions while governor when he repealed that executive order," Hensley said. "It really came back to haunt him.”