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Testimony for Pittsburg City Commission February 28, 2012

Testimony for Pittsburg City Commission, February 28, 2012

Mayor and Members of the City Commission,

Thank you . My name is Leanna Ehler. I am the chair for the Southeast Chapter of the Kansas Equality Coalition. I live in Girard but I would say to you; I am a member of this community. I buy groceries here, I bank here, I eat here, I shop in the mall and I go to the movies here. This is my community. Tonight I stand before you on behalf of the gay community in Pittsburg to ask that you consider including sexual orientation and gender identity into the Human Relations Commission`s anti-discrimination policies. I have prepared an informational packet for each of you to review regarding this request and again I want to thank you for this opportunity to speak before you tonight.

Some would say that I am asking for special rights for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender people but I would say that the right to get and keep a job based on merit is not a special right. The right to have housing is not a special right. The right to be served food in a restaurant or stay in a hotel are not special rights. The right to walk down the street and not get attacked because of who you are and whom you love is not a special right. Gay and lesbian people want the same rights guaranteed to all citizens. Equal protection under the law. The need for equal protection for work, housing, and public accommodations is a basic human right.

Discrimination does exist. The Kansas Equality Coalition conducted a statewide survey earlier this year to get quantifiable data on the incidence of discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) individuals in the state of Kansas. The survey showed that LGBT Kansans experience significant levels of harassment, violence, and discrimination in employment, housing, education, and public services, as a result of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

The survey also shows that roughly three out of four survey respondents experienced verbal abuse, nearly 17 percent were subjected to threats of physical violence, and 8 percent of the respondents reported being in a physical altercation or other physical violence because they were gay. There is a summary of the survey included in the packet that I prepared for you.

I have seen firsthand the destructive impact that discrimination can have in the
lives of LGBT people and their families. Such discrimination threatens the welfare of our citizens as it lessens their standard of living, reduces their ability to provide for their families, and undermines our ability to thrive as a diverse city.

Adding sexual orientation and gender identity protections to the Pittsburg Human Relations Ordinances will make our community a fairer place and a better place to live. This is necessary, it is fair, and it is time.

Adopting anti-discrimination policies that include protections on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity is a step Pittsburg must take in order to truly become a welcoming city for all people. —to be a place where people don’t have to hide their differences in order to be treated equally.

I would like to share a personal story of discrimination that happened in Wichita. In 1979 my sister, a lesbian was abducted outside a gay bar. She was taken to a remote area; assaulted, robbed, stripped naked, shot, stabbed, and ran over by a car three times; the last time one of her legs caught in the undercarriage and she was dragged about thirty feet. Her assaulters then drove off, leaving her to die in an open field, nude, with six stab wounds, one gunshot wound, and a broken pelvis. Remarkably, she survived. This event scarred her both emotionally as well as physically To this day she literally has tire tracks on her body; a constant reminder that hate does exist in this world.

Even though this happened thirty-two years ago gay people are still subject to violence, discrimination and hate. If you don’t think so you haven’t been watching any of the Republican debates or reading the news. Just this past Christmas eve a transgender woman was murdered in Kansas City. I don’t want to live in a world where it is okay to murder, bully, harass, or deny equal rights to someone simply because they are different. I believe that LGBT people deserve full and equal protection under the law.

Pittsburg is a college town and one of it’s strength is its tremendous wealth of diversity and will be best served by a City government which recognizes and embraces that diversity. By including sexual orientation and gender identity in the Human Relations Commission`s anti-discrimination policies Pittsburg will join the growing list of communities that recognize that diversity makes our community richer and that discrimination based on differences hurts us all.

Again I thank you for your time and your consideration in this matter.

Leanna Ehler
Chair- Kansas Equality Coalition Southeast Kansas Chapter

Outcome:

The mayor agreed to convene the Human Relations Commission and have them do a review of our request.

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