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Kansas Official Accused of Antigay Bias in Adoption

Phyllis Gilmore
Phyllis Gilmore

Phyllis Gilmore, head of the state's child welfare department, denies there's any bias at work, although she says families with a mother and father are best.

The head of Kansas's child welfare agency is denying claims that she has discriminated against gays and lesbians seeking to adopt children who are in state custody.

Phyllis Gilmore, secretary of the Kansas Department of Children and Families, has been facing allegations of discrimination for the past month, the Associated Press reports. The criticism started when a Topeka City Council member and his wife were charged with child abuse and child endangerment; they have biological, adoptive, and foster children, and last year adopted a child who had been foster-parented by a lesbian couple wanted to adopt her. The lesbian couple said the DCF chose the heterosexual couple over them as adoptive parents.

Since then other claims of discrimination have surfaced, such as a lesbian couple saying their foster daughters were taken away to live with a biological aunt, even though the aunt had been given a failing grade when the DCF inspected her home. And in a 2013 ruling made public this month, a Johnson County judge said DCF had conducted a "witch hunt" in efforts to remove a child from a lesbian couple's custody.

State lawmakers are considering an audit of the DCF, and the head of LGBT rights group Equality Kansas has said Gilmore should resign. But in an interview with the AP this week, Gilmore said she is not biased against gays and lesbians.

"We're talking about trying to get children into the best homes we can," she told the AP. "Could that sometimes be a homosexual home? Of course, but I still say that the preferred [situation] is every child to have a mom and a dad, if possible, but it's not always possible." She added that as department head, she is rarely involved in the details of adoptions, which are handled by regional DCF offices.

Equality Kansas executive director Tom Witt said Gilmore's statement about the "preferred" arrangement proves she is biased. "She will discriminate against gay and lesbian couples," he told the AP.

Seventeen attorneys and three social workers from around the state sent an open letter to Gov. Sam Brownback Thursday, saying there is "a specter of wrongdoing" at DCF," the news service reports. The same day, state legislators delayed a decision on an audit until January, according to The Wichita Eagle.

State Rep. Jim Ward has recommended the audit; he says he has letters from lawyers that provide evidence of antigay discrimination on the agency's part, but details can't be made public because of confidentiality laws. "A state audit would create an exception so that evidence could become public," the Eagle notes.

Gilmore told the AP she believes some of the criticism directed at her is a result of her connection to Brownback, who appointed her. The governor is an ultraconservative Republican who fought marriage equality, and even after the Supreme Court made it the law of the land, he issued an executive order saying the state can't penalize faith-based groups for opposition to same-sex marriage. This means the state government could, for instance, contract with adoption agencies or homeless shelters that discriminate against same-sex couples, according to critics of the order.

"I'm not too far from the governor," Gilmore said in the AP interview, but she continued to stress that she is not antigay. "I'm not a mean-spirited, hateful person making any statement about homosexuality or sexual preference or same-sex marriage, whatever term you want to use," she said.

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