Press

Anti-Gay Initiative Defeated by Topeka Voters

Date: 
March 02, 2005

MEDIA CONTACT:
Roberta Sklar, Director of Communications
media@theTaskForce.org
646.358.1465

National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Hails Victory of 'Decency over Immorality, Truth over Despicable Lies'

Anti-Gay Initiative Defeated by Topeka Voters

National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Hails Victory of "Decency over Immorality, Truth over Despicable Lies"

"Rev." Fred Phelps Defeated in His Hometown

Task Force's Role Called "Indispensable" by Local Organizers

Sarah Swartz,a resident of Kansas City, MO, celebrates a "no" victory with Topeka lawyer Pedro Irigonegaray, left, and Matt Foreman, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force at the Ramada Inn Downtown. Photo by Mike Shepherd/The Capital-Journal

TOPEKA, KS., March 1 — Voters in Topeka today narrowly defeated an ordinance that sought to prevent the City of Topeka from taking any action to protect gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender people from discrimination for the next 10 years and overturning existing ordinances banning employment discrimination in city government on the basis of sexual orientation and a 2002 hate crimes ordinance. (The text of the ballot question appears at the end of this release.) The campaign to pass the initiative was launched and funded by supporters of Fred W. Phelps of Westboro Baptist Church, sponsor of the "www.godhatesfags.com" web site and hundreds of ugly pickets in Topeka and across the country, including ones at the funerals of Matthew Shepard and President Clinton's mother, Virginia Kelly.

The vote against the ordinance was 52% to 48% (with 95% of the precincts reporting).

"Today, the people of Topeka not only rejected discrimination, they chose decency over immorality, truth over despicable lies, and they repudiated the hate-filled beliefs and practices of Fred Phelps and the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka," said Matt Foreman, Executive Director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. "We are grateful to the people of good will and faith — including The League of Women Voters — who came to our community's assistance. On behalf of our national community, we also express our thanks to the extraordinary work of the campaign's leaders, Erin Norris, Cal Labbe, Allison Browne, and Phoenix Lindsay-Hall and the dozens of volunteers who worked so hard to make today possible."

The Task Force was a driving force behind the "Vote NO on March 1st" campaign to defeat the ordinance. The Task Force recruited and paid for campaign staff, provided technical assistance, contributed approximately $20,000 in cash, and organized volunteer phone banks in New York, Kentucky, Washington (DC), and Tacoma (WA) to call undecided voters.

"We would not have won without the Task Force," said Erin Norris, the Vote NO on March 1st Campaign Chair. "The Task force has been there for us 100%! They immediately answered our call for help and have been supportive, day and night, minute by minute, throughout the campaign."

If the ordinance had been approved, Topeka would have been the only city in the United States with a law specifically denying one group of people protections from discrimination. Cincinnati had a similar law on the books from 1993 to 2004, but it was repealed by voters on November 2, 2004 by a margin of 54% to 46%. While the law was in effect, Cincinnati lost at least $45 million in convention and tourism business, according to the Greater Cincinnati Convention and Visitors Bureau.

The Task Force said the victory was particularly sweet because proponents of the measure had engaged in a campaign of falsehood and misinformation. The "Truth in Love Outreach" campaign, which involved extensive television, radio, and direct mail, asserted, for example, that a "yes" vote was necessary so that "Topeka churches won't be forced to hire homosexual pastors" and so that "Topeka Private and Public Schools won't be forced to hire homosexual teachers (emphasis in original)." The central message of the campaign was that the ordinance would "protect Topeka families" and "put a stop to homosexuals being given special rights."

"The proponents of this measure were despicable liars," Foreman said. "They deliberately tried to mislead voters. We know from calling hundreds of voters that there was enormous confusion about what actually was on the ballot — many thought a 'yes' vote was a vote to protect gay people, while others truly believed the only purpose of the ordinance was to protect Topeka families."

The defeat of the proposed ordinance leaves intact a recently-adopted law banning anti-gay discrimination in city employment and leaves the door open for broader nondiscrimination measures. The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force said additional protections are needed because anti-gay discrimination is a serious problem in Topeka. A 1993 report by the (Topeka) Mayor's Task Force on Gay and Lesbian Concerns found "pervasive harassment and discrimination in Topeka." A November 2004 report by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Policy Institute found that 15% of gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender (LGBT) persons reported losing their jobs because of their sexual orientation or gender identity; 47% concealed their sexual orientation on the job to avoid harassment or discrimination, and 41% said they had been the victim of verbal or physical abuse in the workplace because of their sexual orientation. (A report is available at http://www.thetaskforce.org/downloads/TopekaDiscrimination.pdf.) When the City Council debated legislation to outlaw anti-gay discrimination on November 16, 2004, many Topekans testified about being the victims of anti-LGBT discrimination.

Ordinance defeated March 1, 2005:

CITY OF TOPEKA QUESTION

SHALL THE FOLLOWING BE ADOPTED?

The City of Topeka and its various Boards and Commissions may not enact, adopt, enforce or administer any ordinance, regulation, rule or policy which provides that homosexual, lesbian or bisexual orientation or gender identity or expression; status, conduct or relationship; constitutes, entitles, or otherwise provides a person with the basis to have any claim of minority or protected status, quota preference, or other preferential treatment.

This provision of the City Code shall in all respects be self-executing. Any ordinance, regulation, rule or policy enacted before this provision is adopted that violates the foregoing prohibition shall be null and void and of no force or effect.

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The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, Inc. ("NGLTF, Inc."), founded in 1974, works to build the grassroots political power of the LGBT community to win complete equality. We do this through direct and grassroots lobbying to defeat anti-LGBT ballot initiatives and legislation and pass pro-LGBT legislation and other measures. We also analyze and report on the positions of candidates for public office on issues of importance to the LGBT community. NGLTF, Inc. is a 501(c)(4) non-profit corporation incorporated in New York. Contributions to NGLTF, Inc. are not tax-deductible.

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