Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback (R) signed an executive order Tuesday that rescinded discrimination protections for state employees based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
Brownback’s action reversed a 2007 executive order signed by former Gov. Kathleen Sebelius (D).
Brownback’s executive order lifts the requirements that agencies under his administration’s direct control have programs to prevent harassment against gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people.
The order reportedly covered 25,000 of the state’s 41,000 employees.
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“To remove these kinds of protections for people … is outside the scope of humanity,” Stephanie Mott, an LGBT activist, told WIBW. “It really is an inhumane way to treat people. It says without a doubt that our governor sees LGBT people as lesser human beings, second class citizens.”
Brownback, who won re-election in November despite an uprising from Kansas Republicans, said in a statement the executive order reaffirms the commitment by the state to follow employment practices that do not discriminate based on race, color, gender, religion, national origin, ancestry, or age.
“This Executive Order ensures that state employees enjoy the same civil rights as all Kansans without creating additional ‘protected classes’ as the previous order did,” Brownback said. “Any such expansion of ‘protected classes’ should be done by the legislature and not through unilateral action. The order also reaffirms our commitment to hiring, mentoring and recognizing veterans and individuals with disabilities.”
Tom Witt, head of Equality Kansas, told the Topeka Capital-Journal that the governor’s action created a potentially hostile environment for many state employees.
“Gay, lesbian, and transgender state employees across Kansas have trusted they would be safe from discrimination and harassment in their workplace, but Sam Brownback has, by erasing their job protections, declared ‘open season’ on every one of them,” Witt said.
There are 18 states, and the District of Columbia, that currently have employment non-discrimination laws offering protections for sexual orientation and gender identity, according to the American Civil Liberties Union.
During the past two legislative sessions, Kansas lawmakers have introduced a pair of bills, SB 53 and HB 2761, to amend the state laws regarding employment discrimination to include protections for sexual orientation and gender identity. Neither bill received a committee hearing or vote.
The Kansas legislature is dominated by Republicans, who hold a 32-8 majority in the senate and a 97-28 majority in the house. Brownback has been a vocal opponent of marriage equality, and defied a court ruling striking down a ban on same-sex marriage in the state by ordering state agencies to deny same-sex couples equal treatment.
The governor’s ties to organizations that oppose gay rights have drawn scrutiny over the past year. An anti-LGBT group last fall supported Brownback’s stance against gay marriage in Kansas, urging voters to get to the polls and support the Republican governor because, as one flyer stated, “If it is the nature of a person to be gay, it is in their nature to be extinct.”