The newly re-elected governor of Kansas has made rescinding an executive order protecting LGBT state workers from discrimination one of his first orders of business in his second term in office.
On Tuesday, Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback, a Republican, issued two executive orders, one of which, Executive Order 15-01, reverses directives and eliminates agencies established by his predecessors.
A component of Brownback’s executive order rescinds explicit non-discrimination protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity for state employees. Those protections were enacted in 2007 by former Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, a Democrat, before she moved on to become head of the Department of Health and Human Services.
In a statement, Brownback indicated he’s reversing the protections because they were “unilaterally” enacted, saying only the state legislature has the authority to impose the change.
“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.”
No state or federal law explicitly protects LGBT people in Kansas, so Brownback’s action leaves Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which has been interpreted to protect transgender people in the workplace, as the only recourse for state workers who feel they’ve experienced discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
Thomas Witt, executive director of Equality Kansas, called Brownback’s decision an “outrage” and said it leaves state LGBT workers vulnerable to discrimination.
“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. “If you work for the state, and have felt comfortable being ‘out’ at work knowing you had protection from bigotry, that protection is gone.”
No explanation is provided in the statement for why Brownback is waiting until the start of his second term to undo the non-discrimination rules. An opponent of same-sex marriage, Brownback has been fighting a federal court ruling that came down late last year striking down the state’s prohibition on gay nuptials.
Marty Rouse, national field director for the Human Rights Campaign, said Brownback’s action represents a “dramatic reversal” for Kansas.
“For eight years, LGBT state employees have been guaranteed non-discrimination protections and in one foul, reckless, and shameful decision, Gov. Brownback has taken the state backward,” Rouse said. “His deplorable behavior is a direct assault on fairness and equality in the state.”