By Leah Wankum, The Shawnee Mission Post

Merriam took its first official step last night to create a nondiscrimination ordinance that would offer legal protections for LGBTQ+ residents and employees. As was seen in Mission just a few weeks ago and in Prairie Village last week, several residents came to show their support for the nondiscrimination ordinance.

The council directed staff in a 7-0 vote to draft a new ordinance to make it illegal to discriminate against LGBTQ+ individuals in matters related to housing, employment and public accommodation. Councilmember Al Frisby, who introduced the ordinance in council, said he had been working on the policy for the past three years.

Councilmember Robert Weems was absent for the vote.

Before taking the vote, the council heard supportive remarks from multiple Merriam residents, representatives from the American Civil Liberties Union and Equality Kansas. Additionally, residents and elected officials from neighboring cities and faith leaders voiced their support for the measure.

“We have seen recently the state of Kansas take a hard line position that they are not supporting all of the citizenry,” said Brian Shapley, a Merriam resident and board member of Equality Kansas. “There is nobody in this room, there is no member of any of the organizations that are being represented tonight, that are asking for special rights.”

Rev. Rose Schwab, senior minister of Shawnee Mission Unitarian Universalist Church, gave her testimony from a faith perspective, while others, including a current city councilman in Prairie Village and a former city official from Roeland Park, testified from a civic perspective.

“We have the choice: Are we going to be passive and wait for the folks in D.C. and the folks in Topeka to be constructive and to cover our citizens and to cover the gap for us?” said Tucker Poling, a Prairie Village councilman who also recently introduced a nondiscrimination ordinance. “This problem is going to be solved from the bottom up, not from the top down.”

Poling told Merriam councilmembers that they “don’t have to reinvent the wheel” by drafting this ordinance, but to see what’s working in other cities. Furthermore, the ordinance has not been an expensive cost to “a wide range of” cities that have already adopted it.

After all these statements, Frisby appealed to his fellow councilmembers in support for the ordinance, both on legal and humanitarian grounds. He admitted that, in his youth, he had once joined his peers to “go beat up some queers” at Liberty Memorial.

“I’m ashamed to say I got in the car, but fortunately that night, found no citizens at the memorial,” Frisby said. “I’m ashamed of our state; Kansas municipalities as local government now hold the responsibility to take up the mantle of protecting the LGBTQ communities to fill in the gap — and we’ve heard that over and over: ‘fill in the gap’ left behind to state and federal folks across our nation.”

One Merriam resident spoke against the ordinance: Rose Gerringer, who cited concerns that the ordinance would “jeopardize” parents’ rights to safeguard their child’s sexual education. Gerringer was also concerned with burdened regulations on businesses and nonprofits to conform to the ordinance.

“To codify fluid gender preferences is harmful for our community,” she said. “We should not expose young children to teachings about gender and sexuality that they are too young and ill-equipped to handle…Please consider the burden this ordinance will place on businesses and families in Merriam and refuse to adopt it.”

Of note, Eric Teetsel, the president of the Family Policy Alliance of Kansas, and Sen. Mary Pilcher-Cook, who both spoke against the NDOs being proposed in Mission and Prairie Village, were not present at the Merriam meeting Monday.

Councilmembers who spoke Monday expressed overwhelming support for the ordinance. Scott Diebold added that he wants the ordinance to consider additional language included in Prairie Village’s proposed ordinance that addresses concerns about religious rights.

“I want everybody to know: Hate is not part of what we need to do in this world, we have too much as it is,” Diebold said. “There are people that do have a concern about this; they have rights too. I think those statements need to be a part of what we do. I think it’s something we need to look hard at.”

Poling said the two additions would protect an employer’s right to refuse to hire someone who does not have sufficient quality for a job, and would also exempt religious organizations from following the ordinance.