Governor-elect Laura Kelly wasted no time in vowing to undo a harmful stand by former Gov. Sam Brownback and his successor, Gov. Jeff Colyer.
The Democrat said she’d issue an executive order soon after taking office in January that would reverse the two Republican governors’ decisions to withhold employment discrimination protection from lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) state workers.
State employee protection from being denied jobs, fired or discriminated against based on sexual orientation or gender identity was established in 2007 by then-Gov. Kathleen Sebelius' executive order. Brownback erased the protection in 2015, and Colyer went along when he became governor by not reinstating protections for LGBT state workers.
Brownback argued Sebelius was out of line in establishing the protection via executive order. He said legislators — not the governor — should pursue any expansion of existing anti-discrimination laws. Yet other governors have done as much in states that now prohibit LGBT employment discrimination. Likewise, CEOs of many of the nation’s bigger, more prosperous private-sector companies made the same stand against discrimination in the workplace.
To their credit, they all believe employees should be judged on job performance alone. They also recognize the value in workforce diversity.
Brownback’s decision, on the other hand, reflected the far-right social agenda he and fellow ultraconservatives embraced — and at a cost to the state. Many companies and top-flight professionals won’t set up shop in places that tolerate discrimination against workers in any way.
Kansas always should want the best and brightest workers to make the state their home, regardless of gender and sexual orientation. It’s an ethically and economically sound approach.
As governor, Kelly also hopes to attack discrimination on another front by blocking enforcement of a misguided adoption law.
Earlier this year, state lawmakers approved allowing faith-based adoption agencies to reject gay and lesbian couples as prospective parents. Conservative legislators took advantage of something positive — a bill initially designed to improve the adoption system in Kansas — and turned it into an anti-gay measure.
Such policies only cast negative light on a state with so much good to offer.
Indeed, state-sanctioned discrimination of any kind paints Kansas as backward and intolerant. As Kelly has acknowledged, the state has much to gain by being more inclusive.