Wamego legislator removes his name from legislation after daughter's outcry

Christel Highland doesn't know why her father would sponsor legislation that insults same-sex marriage and classifies homosexuality as a religion whose worshipers are guided by a daily code.

Her anguish over the bill manifests itself in a letter she posted to her Facebook page this week, saying her dad didn't respond to a private inquiry. She describes herself as a proud member of Kansas City's LGBTQ+ community, a mother and partner to the love of her life.

"Your God did not elect you — living, breathing human beings did," she wrote. "Further isolating the marginalized among the population you serve is far from your duty. Hate has no place in public policy. I respectfully request an apology on behalf of my family and beloved friends that this cruel attempt at legislation impacts — viable or not — and I beg that you show yourself to be the honorable man I've always known you to be. Ultimately, what is right can never be something that hurts another. You taught me that."

Rep. Ron Highland, R-Wamego, joined six other Republicans who attached their name to the bill when it was introduced last week. The proposal invited widespread scrutiny and left Christel Highland with many questions.

Why would he take part in a hateful, hurtful, polarizing political stunt? Why force his beliefs on another? Why join forces with the likes of Chris Sevier, the anti-gay activist who authored similar legislation in other states and badgered political figures in the Statehouse ahead of the deadline for filing bills?

"Actively striving to make the lives of others more difficult is beneath you," Christel Highland wrote. "I love you. I always will, in spite of your flaws. I cannot, however, condone your cruel actions. Shame on you."

After a committee hearing Thursday, the representative said “no comment” at the mention of his daughter's letter.

Did he regret sponsoring the legislation? “No comment.” He walked away. Had he spoken with his daughter? He left the room without answering.

The representative told the Manhattan Mercury he shouldn't have signed on to the bill, that he doesn't condone its hateful language and that he asked for his name to be removed.

"I must admit it was a mistake and apologize," he said.

Christel Highland said Friday she wrote the letter "from a place of exhaustion as a result of our divisive political climate." She said she was proud of her father for removing his sponsorship of House Bill 2320.

The bill has been assigned to the House Judiciary Committee, whose chairman, Rep. Fred Patton, R-Topeka, said the bill won't receive a hearing.

"I think this situation is an example of what is possible if we work together toward good with love in our hearts," Christel Highland said. "I can only hope that this is a step in a positive direction where we work to make the pursuit of happiness easier for one another irrespective of birthplace, race, beliefs, or orientation."

Christel Highland's public heartbreak bloomed into an outpouring of support, expressions of love and commendations for bravery. She said the overwhelmingly positive response to her message shows she isn't alone in longing for kindness and respect in policy making.

"You make the world a better place, and this is more proof of it," Philip Hooser wrote in a comment on her Facebook page. "Be proud, be strong and know that you are loved. Also, help me find my tissues because my face is leaking."

R. Scott Anderson: "I am in tears that you were placed in such a situation as a daughter that you needed to write in this way to your father. I am moved to the deepest respect of you as human being for standing firm and not shying away from the sense of duty this has placed on you."

Betheny Gaines thanked her for "realizing we all have to choose a side."

Tom Witt, director of Equality Kansas, said it was sad to see the family dispute become public. There are a lot of LGBT people who have been hurt by their families over this issue, he said.

“We form our own families with people who love us and cherish us and treat us as members of their family," Witt said. "That’s how that works. And we move on with our lives.”