St. Joseph OKs Anti-Bias Law, but Prairie Village Effort Stalls

Two Kansas City-area cities – St. Joseph, Missouri, and Prairie Village, Kansas – were scheduled to review non-discrimination ordinances in September. One city passed its ordinance; the other canceled its meeting.

Both ordinances were geared to provide protections against discrimination in employment and housing, specifically adding sexual orientation and gender identity to the list. Currently, Missouri and Kansas laws do not have protections for these two elements. The ordinances build upon existing human rights city codes.

The St. Joseph City Council met Sept. 10 in a packed room. It had been listening and responding to public comments since the spring, and when the Council members voted, the ordinance passed, 8-1.

The Prairie Village City Council was set to meet on Sept. 17. Of the Council’s 12 members, six notified the city administrator that they were unable to attend this meeting. Eight members are required for a meeting quorum. The meeting was canceled. Now, the fate of the ordinance is uncertain.

The ordinances offer steps to take when individuals feel discriminated against. After a person files a complaint, the city will begin a process of mediation. The outcomes are not legally binding, but they can strongly encourage businesses to make positive changes.

“This is not perfection, but these ordinances are steps in the right direction,” said Inoru Wade, a community activist who researches LGBTQ+ policies nationwide. Speaking of the LGBTQ+ community, he said: “These ordinances will not only deliver needed protections to a community targeted by anti-LGBTQ+ policies since the 1940s, but also pressures leadership in Jefferson City and Topeka to act upon their own past failures to serve their LGBTQ+ constituents.”

Wade, along with colleagues from Equality Kansas, has been working to help municipalities understand what LGBTQ+ people go through on a daily basis in terms of their identity.

With this ordinance, St. Joseph is the 15th municipality in Missouri with similar ordinances, including Kansas City, according to Freedom for All Americans, a bipartisan non-discrimination campaign. The ordinance protects against discrimination in employment and housing based on race, religion, ancestry, marital status, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity or membership of a uniformed service.

Despite the setback, Prairie Village City Councilman Tucker Poling, one of two sponsors of the bill, remained confident that this ordinance would be debated.

“I am resolute that this ordinance will be introduced, debated, and voted upon in an open meeting,” he said. “This will not be brushed under the rug.”

He plans to put the ordinance back on the Council’s agenda soon. “We will be bringing the ordinance forward again in October, likely Oct. 15. Residents will have the opportunity to have their voices heard on this issue.”