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Wichita continues to improve inclusivity index score – but has room for improvement

Stephanie GA, flickr Creative Commons

Across Kansas, municipalities have seen their scores increase in the Human Rights Campaign's annual report. The annual report analyzes municipal laws and policies for LGBTQ+ individuals.

The City of Wichita improved its municipal laws and policies for LGBTQ+ residents in 2021, according to the Human Rights Campaign.

The city still has room for improvement with a score of 72 out of 100 – but its score is above the national average.

“Looking at this scorecard, there’s a lot on here to be proud of,” said HRC’s Legislative Director Kate Oakley, “and I think LGBTQ people who live in Wichita – and even LGBTQ people who live outside Wichita – have a real opportunity to look at Wichita and see this scorecard is a statement of value and something that’s really valuable and important and affirming.”

The Human Rights Campaign describes itself as the largest LGBTQ advocacy and lobbying group in the United States. It releases an annual report analyzing municipal laws and policies for LGBTQ+ individuals.

Wichita saw an increase from a score of 59in 2020, but lost points as an employer.

“I’m happy to see the progress, but the reality is, we could be earning more points,” Wichita Mayor Brandon Whipple said. “We could be doing better when it comes to making Wichita a place where all of our neighbors feel safe to be themselves.”

Whipple attributed the lack of points to the slow approval and implementation of the city’s nondiscrimination ordinance.

A city spokesperson also attributed the score to the city not directly stating its inclusivity policies in city code and manuals.

“Well, some of the things that hurt our score, I think, is that we don’t explicitly state in our hiring and policy manual some of our current actions,” city spokesperson Megan Lovely said. “And so we’re trying to codify that so that it’s clear that we are a supportive and inclusive employer.”

Whipple echoed that sentiment.

“Some of the stuff we can be doing is, I would call it ‘lower hanging fruit,’” he said. “It’s administrative.

“It’s the idea that … our anti-bullying policy is not just for Park and Recreation programs but also for any program that is outward facing towards youth to make sure we can cut down on bullying.”

The Human Rights Campaign also docked the city points for not having transgender-inclusive health care benefits. The city said it lost points for transgender individuals not being covered in the city’s health plan if they’re outside of network, even though it applies to everyone regardless of their sexual orientation.

“They may not have noticed in their health plan, there’s actually an exclusion that trans people can’t receive certain kinds of medically necessary care,” Oakley said. “We would never say to someone, ‘Hey, you’ve had a heart attack, but in my opinion, you don’t deserve to be able to get the health care that is medically necessary to treat a heart attack.’ Right?

“Medically necessary care is medically necessary care, and trans people need to be able to access medically necessary care.”

Wichita’s score has jumped significantly since Whipple was elected in 2019. During that year, the city received a 29 as its index score. In 2020, the city received a 59.

All other Kansas municipalities included in the annual report have also received a higher score since 2019. This year, Topeka and Overland Park tied for having the most inclusive policies with a score of 93. In 2019, they received a score of 50 and 86, respectively.

Oakley said scores across Kansas have gone up in part due to the state updating its sex discrimination laws to include sexual orientation and gender identity to align with the Supreme Court’s ruling in Bostock v. Clay County.

The court ruled that LGBTQ individuals are covered under civil rights legislation that bans discrimination on the basis of sex.

“That has made the nondiscrimination protections for Kansans significantly more rigorous,” Oakley said. “So that makes a big difference in the scorecard and also, of course, makes a big difference in people’s lives knowing that they have recourse if they’ve been discriminated against.”

Kylie Cameron (she/her) is a general assignment reporter for KMUW. Before KMUW, Kylie was a digital producer at KWCH, and served as editor in chief of The Sunflower at Wichita State. You can follow her on Twitter @bykyliecameron.