Wichita City Council member Becky Tuttle, who last week successfully proposed to table the city’s draft 90-day anti-discrimination ordinance, said the conversation around the proposal had been too confrontational and misinformed.
The proposed ordinance would ban discrimination in employment and housing within city limits on the basis of “age, color, disability, family status, gender identity, genetic information, l national origin or ancestry, race, religion, sex, sexual orientation, veteran status or any other factor protected by law.
It would grant an exemption to religious organizations for the employment of workers “connected with the exercise of religious education, ministry, religious duties or practices, the advancement of religion or other religious activities of the Church. organization ”.
“Sometimes when things are moving quickly and there is a lot of misinformation, the best thing to do is take a break and make sure everyone is on the same page,” Tuttle said. Thursday.
But Deputy Mayor Brandon Johnson, one of only two votes against tabling the ordinance, said history has shown that waiting for a consensus on civil rights is futile.
“Ninety days or 90 years, there will be people who will be concerned because this offers protection to groups who are discriminated against,” Johnson said at the meeting last Tuesday.
Dozens of public speakers filled the last two board meetings, many arguing that the ordinance would undermine the religious freedom of business owners with deeply held beliefs about sexual orientation and gender identity.
Tuttle said she sees herself as a strong ally of the LGBTQIA + community. During her time in the Sedgwick County Health Department, she headed the department which oversaw HIV and STD testing and prevention, which carried out routine outreach activities in the community.
“I have been involved in the LGBT community. I actually helped form an LGBT health coalition that still exists, ”Tuttle said.
“For anyone who questions my beliefs, it is almost unacceptable if you look at my 25 year career of serving everyone and treating everyone with respect and dignity.”
Council member Cindy Claycomb, who joined Tuttle in her vote to table the ordinance, said she also sees herself as an ally.
“Yeah, I mean, I think I voted to support them, although I guess some of them didn’t think so in my vote on Tuesday, but that’s their interpretation,” Claycomb said. Thursday. “I am convinced that we need a non-discrimination order.”
Council member Jared Cerullo, a married gay man who also voted to file the ordinance, said over the past week he received at least 1,000 emails from voters about the proposal.
“I would say 90% of all the contacts I got were in favor of at least, you know, blocking that out so we can get people to the table, figure out how we can move forward and get everyone to the world is more accepting of this non-ordinance on discrimination, ”Cerullo said on Friday.
“I believe there is a certain segment that wanted this to be blocked in order to stop it completely, and frankly, that is not going to happen.”
Cerullo said the purpose of a city ordinance is not to regulate people’s personal beliefs about sexual orientation, gender identity or any other protected class.
“People will have to realize that this ordinance does not change the facts, or force them to change what they believe,” Cerullo said. “After this ordinance is passed, churches and people and everyone will still be able to believe as they believe. “
Claycomb said there was still a lot of confusion about the scope of the order and how it would be applied.
“I think it’s important to pass a non-discrimination order, but I think it’s just as important that it doesn’t leave any questions about what it does and doesn’t do,” Claycomb said. .
Tuttle said those misconceptions could be cleared up with straightforward language on specific issues that have been raised.
“For example, there are a lot, a lot of questions about bathrooms and what it means and what it doesn’t mean, and I think having other conversations, maybe put some direct language into that. prescription, might help dispel some of these misconceptions, ”Tuttle says.
The council, including Tuttle and Claycomb, first approved an anti-discrimination order on June 15, but it was widely criticized by advocates who said it was unenforceable and largely symbolic. The ordinance was reintroduced with new language modeled on similar ordinances on the books in a number of towns in Johnson County. Both times, board members Bryan Frye and Jeff Blubaugh voted against.
In addition to getting feedback from the nascent Diversity, Inclusion, and Civil Rights Advisory Council and the Kansas Human Rights Commission, Tuttle said she wanted to ask residents of other towns with similar anti-discrimination orders “any lessons learned or anything we might be missing or any unintended consequences they found that we may be able to avoid.”
Cerullo said no final version of the ordinance would remove sexual orientation or gender identity from its protected classes.
“Sexual orientation and gender identity will not be removed from this ordinance,” he said. “It just won’t happen. We have 20 other cities in this state that have found a way to move forward with sexual orientation and gender identity in their NDOs, and everything is working great.
Tuttle acknowledged that even a more deliberate process to craft such an order would likely be polarizing.
“We’re never going to make everyone happy with this,” she said. “I really hope that more common ground can be found.”
Claycomb and Cerullo are both running for re-election in November. The ordinance would be tentatively submitted to council on October 12, in the closing weeks of the general election.
“I don’t think of politics when I make this decision,” Cerullo said. “It just didn’t occur to me.”
At the last meeting, Mayor Brandon Whipple accused Claycomb of delaying the order to avoid a politically charged vote, a charge flatly denied by Claycomb.
“I’m not doing this for political reasons,” she said. “That’s not why I’m in this business. I know others are, but I am not.