Friday, April 10, 2009

The Mad Voter -- Keep Some Change

(Originally published in the Liberty Press in March 2008)

As I write this, Barack Obama has been president for just over a month. George W. Bush’s “pro-family” agenda has been replaced with Obama’s. We’re promised a great deal of change for a hopeful future where many of us, myself included, live without jobs, too many medical bills, and with limited rights.

One man or one administration or one Congress cannot alone make these changes: if we wish rights to fully include LGBT people, we must demand it. And, more importantly, be the change we wish to see.

President Obama promised in his inauguration to set childish things aside, that we deserve the promise “that all are equal, all are free and all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness.” Will this apply to LGBT Americans? has been updated to include the new administration’s civil rights plan ( LGBT rights represent over half of the webpage. This represents quite a step forward for us over years past!

And in other national news, the NAACP filed paperwork with the court in opposition to Prop 8, joining other racial and ethnic minority organizations opposing this horrific anti-marriage amendment.

“It is imperative that the Supreme Court of California recognize that by allowing Prop 8 to take effect, it is setting a dangerous precedent that allows a bare majority to strip minority groups of their fundamental rights. We are joining this challenge to ensure that the rights of all minority groups are being protected,” said John Payton, NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund President and Director-Counsel.

There seems so much happening around us, moving us forward towards full protection and recognition. Can we carry this energy in Kansas?

Unfortunately, I doubt we can.

The Kansas Legislature didn’t gain enough LGBT-friendly legislators to make much of a difference. Positive state representatives moved to the senate, which is good news for all of us, but the house continues to be stacked with ultra-conservatives.

Take, for instance, Sen. Dennis Pyle from Hiawatha. 

Two days before Valentine’s Day, the Kansas Equality Coalition testified before committee on behalf of Senate Bill 169. The bill amends the Kansas Acts Against Discrimination to include sexual orientation and gender identity, protecting LGBT Kansans from discrimination in employment, housing, and public accommodations (so no getting kicked out of IHOP with my girlfriend).

Sen. Pyle’s concern lies with adding these two classes to the ones that already exist (race, sex, religion, etc). He asked “Would that protect bestiality?” And Rep. Janice Pauls from Hutchinson said the two classes would dilute its effectiveness. I am moved, as always.

February also saw a hospital visitation bill introduced in the State House. At this point, It has not yet been debated.

This legislative session probably will not see much opportunity for our issues to get very far. Budget cuts, especially with fights over education funding, means we probably won’t see the Kansas Act Against Demonstration expanded as this would require more work and money by the Human Relations Commission nor any enforcement of the anti-bullying statute.

There might be some movement in hospital visitation, but as coal and energy continues to pay in many people’s minds, all but the most minor legislation is destined to never make it out of committee.

It looks as if this session will, once again, be largely dedicated to stopping bad legislation such as last year’s attempt to take away Lawrence’s domestic partner registry and 2006’s attempt to keep LGBT (and single) Kansans from becoming foster or adoptive parents. 

Our best hopes rest in Washington, D.C. And this makes it all the more important to be involved in Kansas. While we might not see much movement in the Capitol, we can still work on our local communities.

Our schools are required to have anti-bullying policies. Are they complete? Do they include protections for sexual orientation and gender identity/expression?

Hospitals make their own visitation policies. Do the hospitals in your area allow unmarried partners to participate in each other’s care?

Businesses can make policies stronger than federal and state law requires them to. Which businesses in your town provide inclusive anti-discrimination policies? Does your company? Help them make stronger policies! Work with them to include inclusive training materials, such as using “partner” instead of “spouse”.

Many of us find ourselves with some “extra” time on our hands. What can you do with it? And what do you think your community needs? Gather up some friends, and let’s make it happen!

Change isn’t something we’re given by a president or a legislature. We must keep some of our ambitions for change in our hearts and in our communities. Share your change with those around you. If not now, then when?

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