Is it just me, or does it sometimes feel like we live in an alternate universe here in Kansas and Missouri? It’s as if these two states exist inside a silo, separated from the rest of the country. Like Billy Pilgrim in Slaughterhouse-Five, we have become unstuck in time. While the rest of the country moves forward in a linear fashion, we wake up, look around, and find ourselves right back in 1950.
This is how I felt during my recent trip to Topeka, Kansas. While I was spending my days advocating for the rights of LGBTQ survivors of violence, some other folks in the Capitol were doing quite the opposite.
On Feb. 10, Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback issued an executive order that removes sexual orientation and gender identity from the non-discrimination protections afforded to state employees. To say that many of us were thoroughly outraged would be an understatement.
It’s bad enough that LGBTQ people can be fired or evicted in most parts of Kansas and Missouri, but this felt different. This wasn’t a municipality refusing to take needed action to ensure that citizens don’t experience discrimination due to their identity. This was a deliberate, active choice to remove protections that already existed — protections that were harming absolutely no one. This didn’t feel like something being done in order to have wide-reaching policy implications. It felt like it was being done to send a message.
Well, Gov. Brownback, message received.
When decisions like this are made by those in power, rarely do those powerful people consider the impact that the message has on the most vulnerable members of our society. At Kansas City Anti-Violence Project, we see this impact every day.
LGBTQ survivors of domestic violence are put at even greater risk when they do not have legal protections from discrimination. It’s common for abusers to threaten to out their partners in the workplace, knowing that this could cause the partners to lose their jobs with no recourse. This immensely powerful tactic can often prevent a survivor of domestic violence from safely leaving an abusive relationship.
The fear of unemployment, financial insecurity or possible homelessness may be enough to make someone stay with his or her abuser, which is completely understandable. When you are weighing the options between living in fear at a house and living in fear at a homeless shelter, there is no easy answer.
Beyond this very real fear for domestic violence survivors of experiencing discrimination in the workplace, this executive order will have a chilling effect on members of our community who are considering reporting incidents of violence.
In a state where people in power openly advocate for discrimination, survivors will feel less comfortable interacting with law enforcement, social services or courts. Without legal protection against discrimination, we may fear standing in front of a judge to get a protection order against an abusive partner. We may worry that the police will not appropriately respond to a domestic violence incident involving a same-gender couple. We may question whether we can safely pick up the phone and ask for help when we most need it.
This is rarely the narrative we hear when non-discrimination ordinances are being discussed, but this is the reality. It needs to be heard. When politicians create a culture in which discrimination is acceptable, that changes more than just the climate at the Statehouse. It changes the climate of the whole state. It is a climate in which the voices of survivors are silenced, and we know that silence can be deadly.
Victoria Pickering is the education and outreach coordinator for the Kansas City Anti-Violence Project. KCAVP’s vision is to end all types of violence in the lives of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.