WSU responds to governor’s order rescinding LGBT protections

Elle Boatman, a transgender student and employee, was sickened when Gov. Sam Brownback rescinded an executive order protecting LGBT employees from discrimination in the workforce on Feb. 10.

“I think it’s appalling that the governor would take this action,” Boatman said, “It’s not just refusing to enact protections for the LGBT community, but it’s going one step further and actually trashing protections that LGBT people have.”

In a statement released Friday, Wichita State reaffirmed that it will not discriminate LGBT employees.

The executive order Brownback repealed last week was enacted by then-Gov. Kathleen Sebelius in 2007, protecting LGBT state employees from discrimination. Brownback said he rescinded the order because such changes should be made by the state legislature.

Sebelius responded to Brownback’s order negatively, expressing surprise and concern over the governor’s decision.

Kerry Wilks, the associate dean of WSU’s graduate school, who is gay, said she was extremely disappointed by the governor’s order, but not surprised by it.

 “I guess I’m not surprised by the view, but I didn’t think such a measure, that is to me draconian, would happen,” Wilks said. “I wouldn’t expect his support, but this goes beyond not supporting.”

On Friday, university President John Bardo released a statement in reaction to the governor’s order.

“In response to recent discussion of nondiscrimination policies at the state level,” the statement reads, “we want to reaffirm that WSU’s policies prohibit discrimination in our programs and activities on the basis of race, religion, color, national origin, gender, age, sexual orientation, marital status, political affiliation, status as a veteran, genetic information or disability. These protections remain in place.”

For LGBT employees on campus, that means they will not be discriminated against, despite the governor’s order, said Francisco Gonzalez, executive director of the Office of Equal Employment Opportunity.

“There haven’t been any changes, nor do we expect there to be any changes, in our ability to protect our students, faculty and staff,” Gonzalez said.

Wilks said on a personal note, she was happy with Bardo’s statement.

“It makes me feel positive that WSU, where I work and spend a great deal of my time,” Wilks said, “has spoken out about such an important matter and definitively has said, I think, that all of our students and all of our employees matter.”

However, one area of concern with WSU’s discrimination policy is gender identity and expression, Gonzalez said. He said that while the policy has never explicitly covered the two, the Office of Equal Employment Opportunity has interpreted discrimination based on gender identity to be covered under the policy regarding discrimination based on gender or sexual orientation.

“We are basically extending those current protections to also cover transgender people for what we envision can be an instance of discrimination,” Gonzalez said. “We are trying to interpret our current protections of gender and sexual orientation to expand that protection to the folks in the transgender community.”

Boatman said she would like to see further wording in WSU’s anti-discrimination policy explaining that transgender people are protected.

“If you feel like something is covered by something already in there, if you don’t have any problems covering them, what is the big deal about putting it in the clause for people who aren’t as inclusive and accepting?” Boatman asked. “If we want to stay on the cutting edge of diversity and inclusion, it’s pretty much a no-brainer to include it.”

Wilks said Brownback’s executive order is disappointing to the people of Kansas looking to improve the state.

“Even here at WSU, we’re looking at innovation, we’re doing Innovation Campus, and we’re actively working for the good of all Kansans,” she said. “And then you have something like this that is targeting a group of Kansans. It’s a step backward for civil rights. There’s no place for discrimination or hatred in the state of Kansas.”