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Kansas Town Bans LGBTQ Bias, Will Investigate Antigay Politician

Karin Brownlee
Olathe City Council member Karin Brownlee

An activist who backed the new law says he felt his job was threatened when Olathe City Council member Karin Brownlee complained to his employer.

The City Council in Olathe, Kan., has finally adopted an LGBTQ-inclusive nondiscrimination ordinance, and it agreed to investigate an ethics complaint against a council member who is said to have inappropriately contacted the employer of an activist who backed the measure.

Council members voted 4-3 Tuesday night to ban discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity in employment, housing, and services from businesses, The Kansas City Star reports. It was the last city in Johnson County to adopt such an ordinance. Johnson County is the most populous county in Kansas and is part of the Kansas City metropolitan area.

"The first reason I'm voting 'yes' is because I don't think anyone in Olathe should ever be discriminated against for any reason," council member Jim Randall said at the meeting, according to the Star. "The second one is that this body is a secular body; it is not a church." Some residents had voiced concern that the ordinance would limit religious freedom, but it does include exemptions for religious, political, and educational institutions.

Interest in the ordinance ran so high that more than 250 people attended the meeting. The measure goes beyond state antidiscrimination law, which does not cover sexual orientation or gender identity.

After the vote on the ordinance, the council voted 5-1 to investigate an ethics complaint against member Karin Brownlee. LGBTQ rights activist Brett Hoedl brought the complaint, saying Brownlee had spoken to his employer about her objections to the nondiscrimination ordinance. Hoedl, who heads the Metro Kansas City chapter of Equality Kansas, was a leading advocate for the measure, which Brownlee voted against Tuesday night.

Hoedl said Brownlee's action made him feel his job was in jeopardy. It "sent a chill down my spine," he said.

Brownlee said she simply had a casual conversation with member of the legislative affairs team at Hoedl's company, the engineering firm of Black and Veatch, after he left a City Council meeting in anger in June because the council delayed a vote on the ordinance until after the November election.

"Merely reciting publicly available information is not an attack," she wrote in a response to Hoedl's complaint. "The June 4th meeting was very memorable due to the inappropriate behavior displayed by Mr. Hoedl. The issue was not the content nor the topic but the conduct."

Hoedl said what Brownlee did went beyond a casual conversation. "My employer was concerned enough about her comments to get me out of a meeting to discuss them," he wrote in the complaint. "My employer informed me that they were not instructing me to cease and desist my advocacy and that I have the right to continue to speak up. I am a lucky one to have a supportive employer. There is no doubt in my mind that others may not be so lucky."

LGBTQ rights activists have called on Brownlee to resign from the council, but she has said she will not do so.

The Olathe city attorney will now provide a list of investigators for the council to choose from for the probe into Hoedl's complaint.

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