Friday, July 25, 2014

What I Wish I'd Said to the Roeland Park City Council

Monday night the city council of Roeland Park, Kansas voted 4 to 3 against a bill that would ban discrimination of LGBT people.  It was a sad but not surprising outcome, since only Lawrence in the entire state of Kansas has a LGBT non-discrimination bill.  Despite efforts by the local ACLU, Equality Kansas and a bunch of local advocates from inside and outside of Roeland Park the ban was voted down.

I have been unable to attend previous council meetings about the ban, but I'm glad to say that other area UCC clergy and UCC church members, including our own seminarian Karon Harper, have been present and vocal in their support for it.  I made it Monday night for the vote, however, and although I was not surprised by religious opposition to the ban, the ignorance spouted by ban opponents was surprising in that it felt like we had gone in a time warp back twenty or even thirty years.  One woman said LGBT people couldn't be discriminated against, because only people who have non-Caucasian skin color can experience discrimination.  A man said the ban gives LGBT people "special rights" beyond what everyone else gets.  One woman who claimed to be a medical professional declared that "fornication" by homosexuals creates a "health risk" to the public!  When she spoke I thought I was hearing somebody telling poor Ryan White he couldn't come to school! 

Despite the discouraging outcome of the vote, it was good to be with people who so courageously were speaking out for God's justice.  As a heterosexual man who doesn't reside in Roeland Park, I am not directly affected by the council's vote, but there were plenty of people in the room who are.  A number of gay and lesbian people from Roeland Park spoke in the meeting--many identifying themselves as homosexual in such a public way for the first time.  Also present were other LGBT people and straight allies from Roeland Park and from around the metro area.  I was pleased to meet Debi Jackson who is the mother of a transgender child and whose video talking about her daughter has gone viral and received much local media attention.  Also I met a transgender woman who is a local activist for transgender people.  She runs a great blog called: Transas City.  (I was proud to tell both about Donna Ross speaking in worship Sunday at church.)  The courage demonstrated by folks like these is what keeps me working for God's justice.  They are inspirational. 

I did speak during the public comment time of the meeting.  What I said was okay but not my best.  Here's the video.
I'm not sure that anything said by the public mattered by that point anyway, however, because the council members all seemed like their minds were decided beforehand.  One of the council members who voted no said nothing else throughout the meeting.  Another who voted no complained of harassment she had suffered for being public about her opposition.  Yet another council member who voted no looked on the verge of having a nervous breakdown and proceeded to read from the Roman Catholic Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith about not demeaning homosexuals before he gave his no vote.  (The last one was very strange.)

As is often typical for me, just like George Costanza on Seinfeld, as I was driving away I thought of plenty of things I wish I had said.  So here's a letter I will mail Monday to the council members that says what I wish I had said during my 90 seconds of public comment time at the council meeting.

Dear Council Members,

I am writing to you concerning the disappointing vote on July 21 that failed to approve a ban on discrimination of LGBT people in Roeland Park.  I am one of the clergy who spoke Monday night in favor of the ban.  Although I am not a resident of Roeland Park, members of my congregation come from throughout the metro KC area.  I live in Overland Park and had hoped the passage of a ban in your city would inspire my own city and others to do likewise.  I am grateful to you for at least considering such a ban--something my city has yet to do--even though I believe you missed an opportunity to be a leader for justice in the state of Kansas.

I am inspired by the three council members who voted for the ban, and I am praying for each of you, especially the four of you who opposed it   I am saddened to hear that council members on both sides of the issue faced harassment for your convictions.  I am especially sad that those who believe LGBT people should be free of harassment would mistreat those of you who opposed the ban.  Just as I believe most people opposing the ban would not commit outright acts of harassment, I believe most people in favor of LGBT equality would not do such acts either.  There are unfortunately extremists who hold every kind of belief. 

What I wish had happened, however, is that those council members who faced harassment for opposing the ban would have gained some empathy for LGBT people who face harassment every day in their workplaces, in the marketplace and other environments.  As a heterosexual I never have experienced someone accusing me of being a "fornicator" or a "public health risk" as happened in Monday night's meeting, but LGBT people experience such inane words all the time.  They get to hear slurs, jokes at their expense and insults everywhere they go unless they choose to hide who they are.  Decisions like hiring, contracts and housing are made all the time based on prejudice against LGBT people.  Freedom from such discrimination is not a case of "special rights" or "more rights," as was claimed Monday night, but rather a simple human right that heterosexuals take for granted.

I don't feel anger towards the four of you who voted against the ban but rather pity.  I pity you, because you had the chance to be courageous and make a positive difference for your city and even your state, but you missed that chance.  I pity you, because you are on the losing side.  Martin Luther King, Jr. said it well, when he declared, "The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice."  The cause of equality for LGBT people is making great strides, and before too long, people will wonder how anyone could have opposed the blindingly obvious reality that LGBT people deserve the same protections as everyone else.  Your children and grandchildren (if they don't already do so) will consider your vote on July 21, 2014 and wonder how their parent or grandparent could have been so ignorant and cruel?  There will be other Roeland Park city councils, and sooner or later, a council of your city will approve such a ban.

As a Christian and a minister, I believe our love for our neighbors should include trusting their stories of who God made them to be rather than imposing an ancient understanding of sexual morality upon them.  Even if you do not share my religious and ethical views, I wonder how you as an elected official can claim to act in the best interest of all your constituents in a city containing people of different religious persuasions and yet vote in such a way that imposes a particular interpretation of Christian scripture upon all of them?  In your city and my own, there are people who live in ways that are contrary to my religious beliefs, yet in a pluralistic democracy I must acknowledge their rights to live as they believe is best so long as it does not threaten the common good.  Similarly, if I wish to enjoy freedom from discrimination based on whom I believe God created me to be, I must be willing to grant that same freedom to others.  On July 27, four of you voted against the common good of Roeland Park in favor of the particular religious views of a vocal minority--a vocal minority who, in my opinion, fail to understand the grace of God they claim to represent.


Rev. Chase Peeples   

I will mail this letter on Tuesday.
Grace and Peace,

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