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Kansas governor extends anti-discrimination protections to gay state employees

Kansas governor extends anti-discrimination protections to gay state employees

The governor of the U.S. state of Kansas signed an executive order Friday prohibiting most state employees from being discriminated against on the basis of their sexual orientation.
The order, effective immediately, requires that agencies under the Democratic governor's direct control make sure they have programs to prevent on-the-job harassment against gays, lesbians, bisexuals and people who have undergone sexual reassignment surgery. It covers about 25,000 of the state's 41,000 employees.
"I'm sorry it took us so long," Gov. Kathleen Sebelius said after signing the order in front of two dozen activists. She also endorsed a bill in the Republican-dominated Legislature that would prohibit discrimination against gays and lesbians in housing and private employment.
Anti-discrimination laws offering at least some protections to gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender people exist in about 20 states, according to the civil rights group Human Rights Campaign. Sebelius said most of the U.S.'s largest private companies have policies like the one she set Friday, and the Kansas Equality Coalition said Shawnee County and the cities of Lawrence, Mission and Topeka do, as well.
"We need to make sure in Kansas that all of our employees are treated with dignity and respect and that the doors to state employment are open to all," Sebelius said. "It was just clear we were behind the times."
Kansas voters rewrote the state constitution to ban gay marriage in 2005. Among Republicans who supported that effort, reaction to Sebelius' order was mixed.
Rep. Mike O'Neal, of Hutchinson, said the governor has the power to set such policies for the executive branch, but Rep. Arlen Siegfried, of Olathe, said she was stepping into legislators' territory.
"I can almost guarantee you that will be a topic of legislative discussion," said Siegfried, chairman of the House committee that would consider such an issue.
Sebelius' order also strengthened existing language to see that Kansans with disabilities are treated fairly in employment decisions.