Discrimination Vote in Manhattan, Kansas Stirs Debate… All the Way Out in Manhattan, NYC

Last week, the Manhattan City Commission (the Manhattan in Kansas that is) approved a local ordinance by a 3-to-2 vote that will make it illegal to discriminate against individuals based on their sexual orientation and gender identity. Although Kansas law offers protection from discrimination in terms of housing, accommodations, and employment based on disability, ancestry, national origin, age, religion, color, sex, and race, there is no law which offers blanket protection for either gender identity or sexual orientation.

Indeed, the controversial measure – which was supported by the Kansas Equality Commission – made Manhattan only the second city in Kansas to pass an ordinance to prevent discrimination based on sexual orientation and the first in the state to make it illegal to discriminate based on gender identity. Joshua McGinn, a member of a Kansas Human Rights Board, acknowledged that many local residents had concerns about the ordinance. He sought to reassure these citizens with this statement: “I hope that Manhattan residents know that there is nothing in this ordinance to be afraid of – it’s absolutely a statement of equal protection for all people.”

That said, many community members have voiced concerns about the ordinance – and not just over the ethics of prohibiting discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation. Loren Pepperd, a Manhattan commissioner, worried that the terms defined in the ordinance were unclear: “a lot of these terms that a lot of people in the ordinance didn’t understand…that’s why I am saying I think the ordinance as written is flawed and ambiguous.”

During the debate over the ordinance, the Manhattan Commissioners vigorously argued how, specifically, to define “gender identity.” They ultimately settled on the following definition: “A person’s good faith and continuing presentation of that person’s gender related identity, appearance, mannerisms or other gender related characteristics, which may or may not be consistent with the person’s biological sex.”

Such a case would normally be contained to local news outlets, but debates over gender identity and sexual orientation politics tend to act as lightning rods and inspire broader, vigorous discussions about the essence of human rights and equality in modern America. The Manhattan vote piqued analysis from pundits located as far away as the “Bigger Manhattan” in New York City.

Theoretical discussions aside… if you or a co-worker has been victimized by gender discrimination, sexual harassment, racial discrimination, retaliation, or other employer mistreatment, you may have a surprising arsenal of resources at your disposal. Get in touch with the legal team at Joseph & Kirschenbaum at (212) 688-5640 or www.jhllp.com to get a free and confidential case evaluation today.