Kansas Gov. Brownback Rolls Back Employment Protections for LGBT Workers

Kansas Governor Sam Brownback has rolled back workplace discrimination protections for LGBT state employees in his state. REUTERS/Mark Kauzlarich

Some people in Kansas may be at risk of losing their jobs because of their gender identity or sexual orientation. Yesterday, Republican Governor Sam Brownback issued an executive order removing workplace protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender state employees.

Kansas was one of seven states in which executive orders provided state employees with protection against discrimination in employment on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. Four states have executive orders that protect against employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation but not gender identity. Eighteen states and the District of Columbia have laws preventing employment discrimination for sexual orientation and gender identity, while three others have laws protecting sexual orientation but not gender identity in the workplace.

The protections Brownback rescinded Tuesday were put in place in 2007 by his Democratic predecessor, Kathleen Sebelius, who went on to serve as secretary of health and human services in the Obama administration from 2009 to 2014.

LGBT rights groups are upset. "Any employees who were protected under Governor Sebelius's order could be fired simply for being LGBT if they work for a boss who doesn't like LGBT folks," says Doug Bonney of the American Civil Liberties Union of Kansas.

Kansas now has no workplace protections for any LGBT workers. In fact, it has always been legal for most Kansas employers to fire people based on their sexual orientation or gender identity, despite the fact that the state issues marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Brownback said that if Kansas voters want sexual orientation and gender identity to qualify as protected categories for the purposes of workplace discrimination, the Legislature should pass a law to that effect.

That seems unlikely, given the state's legislative record when it comes to LGBT rights. In 2014, the Kansas House of Representatives approved 72-49 House Bill No. 2453, which would have allowed individuals, groups and businesses to deny goods and services to same-sex couples on religious grounds. That bill never made it out of committee. According to Human Rights Watch, state legislators introduced five laws in 2015 that would have reduced protections for LGBT people and three that would have improved them. None of those bills made it out of the Legislature.