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Southwest-Dodge City Daily Globe 4/18/11 article


In 2005, opponents of a proposal to ban same-sex marriage failed to block the measure because they weren’t organized.
Kansas lawmakers passed a constitutional amendment outlawing same-sex marriage that year, and voters later approved the proposal.
That experience taught local activists around Kansas to work together on defeating anti-gay legislation, said Thomas Witt, chairman of the Kansas Equality Coalition. And as a result, conservative lawmakers have not succeeded in pushing any anti-gay bills through the Legislature since 2005.
“That was the last time they beat us,” Witt said. “They have not gotten anything through on us since then.”
Witt told that anecdote during a KEC meeting Saturday at the Dodge City Public Library. The story illustrated his theme: Local activists must set aside their differences and cooperate on fighting discrimination against gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people.
Witt’s remarks were packed with examples when activists worked together to either block anti-gay legislation or promote gay-friendly bills.
For instance, in 2007, the KEC introduced a measure aimed at stopping bullying in Kansas schools — and lawmakers approved it. The same year, the organization persuaded then-Gov. Kathleen Sebelius to issue an executive order protecting state employees from discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
“Anybody that gets their paycheck from the state of Kansas cannot be fired for being gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgendered,” Witt said. “You can still get fired for sleeping on the job, but you can’t get fired for being queer. So, there’s some progress.”
In 2008, KEC’s Lawrence chapter convinced the Lawrence City Commission to adopt the state’s first — and only — domestic partnership registry. The Legislature later considered a statewide ban on domestic partnership registries, but the KEC managed to defeat the bill.
“We had a plan,” Witt said. “We executed the plan, we persuaded the right people to vote against it and we beat that registry ban on a 66 to 50 vote on the House floor. And that was the first time the gay community in Kansas ever had a straight-up victory on the floor against a bill that was aimed at us — specifically at us.”
But he said the KEC hasn’t succeeded in convincing the Legislature to add sexual orientation and gender identity to a state law banning discrimination, largely because conservative lawmakers lobby against the proposal whenever it’s introduced.
Witt said local activists will play a key role in persuading lawmakers to expand state protections against discrimination — and they will need someone in Topeka to help them.
“Having somebody there every single day to watch all the bills, to build the relationships means everything to making sure that we stop this stuff,” he said. “It’s just as important as the local organizing.”

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