Melissa Cheatham

Comments on Non-Discrimination Ordinance

Delivered to Overland Park Community Development Committee
Public Hearing
September 4, 2019

Chairman Skoog and members of the committee. Thank you for beginning this important discussion tonight. I am here to share my strong support for a municipal non-discrimination ordinance that would protect my LGBTQ friends, family and neighbors from unfair discrimination.

Back in February, you and your fellow council members unanimously adopted the ForwardOP vision that our city had brought to you. For more than a year, you asked us — the residents of Overland Park — what we wanted in our city. We came back to you with three words to describe the city we imagined for our future. One word was WELCOMING. The vision states that Overland Park will be a city “where people of all ages and from diverse backgrounds are engaged in the community.”

Adopting a non-discrimination ordinance is a critically important demonstration of the commitment to our city’s vision to be welcoming. It is impossible to feel welcome in a place where you can be denied housing because of who you love. It is impossible to feel welcome in place where you can be fired because of who you love. Quite frankly, I think that having to endure public debate about whether or not you deserve full human and civil rights probably doesn’t feel very welcoming.

The ForwardOP vision also called for Overland Park to be innovative and forward-thinking. Unfortunately, we’ve missed the boat on this one. We can hardly consider ourselves innovative when we are on pace to be among the last cities in Johnson County to adopt a non-discrimination ordinance. At least nine other cities have already taken action to protect their residents from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. In the year 2019, I also don’t think being in favor of a policy like this can be considered forward-thinking. This is just the new normal that is going to be expected by the educated, talented job-seekers this city wants to see moving here. We don’t get to be forward-thinking on this one. However, if you fail to act and fail to make a statement that our city has no tolerance for discrimination, we will be seen as backward thinking. You’ll not only fail to move us forward, you’ll be taking us in the wrong direction.

Mr. Chairman, on the night the council adopted ForwardOP, you had a message for those of us who were in the audience. You said, “We’re going to need your support.” You knew that implementing the vision wouldn’t always be easy. Well, I’m here tonight to heed that call. You have my support. You have this city’s support. This is the easy part. Let’s get this done and move Forward…OP.