With the stroke of a pen, Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback erased protections offered to LGBT state employees facing discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.
Brownback, a Republican, signed an executive order Tuesday removing gender identity and sexual orientation from the classes of protected state workers put into place eight years ago by his predecessor, former Gov. Kathleen Sebelius.
Sebelius’ executive order in 2007 said the state’s government employees could not be discriminated against, fired or harassed because of their gender identity or sexual orientation.
Brownback then issued an additional executive order affirming state employees could not be discriminated against because of their race, religion, gender, age or country of national origin.
“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 in a short statement that did not specifically refer to sexual orientation or gender identity. “Any such expansion of ‘protected classes’ should be done by the legislature and not through unilateral action.”
The Human Rights Campaign, an LGBT civil-rights group, blasted the governor’s “deplorable behavior” and called the order a “direct assault on fairness and equality in the state.”
“This is 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, Governor Brownback has taken the state backward,” HRC National Field Director Marty Rouse said in a statement.
LGBT groups decried the move, describing it as “foul, reckless and shameful.”
Thomas Witt, executive director of Equality Kansas, the state’s leading LGBT rights group, said in a statement the move amounts to declaring “open season” on workplace harassment for LGBT state employees.
“This action by the governor is an outrage,” he 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.”
House Democratic Leader Tom Burroughs of Kansas City, Kansas, said in a statement, “Brownback is playing to his base and attempting to distract from the serious budget crisis facing our state. The bottom line is this: All Kansans deserve to be treated fairly and with respect and no Kansan should be denied equal protection under the law.”
Rep. J.R. Claeys, R-Salina, called the notion a state worker could be fired for being LGBT unfortunate.
“No one should be made to feel ashamed of who they are and I don’t think anyone should ever lose their job for being gay.”
Rep. John Rubin, R-Shawnee, a former federal judge, defended the governor’s decision, saying the issue should be up to the state legislature to decide.
“Until sexual orientation is either added in Kansas as a protected class under our law or added federally, which it isn’t now … I think that’s the legislature’s prerogative,” Rubin said.