The city council of Topeka, Kansas – home to the adamantly homophobic Westboro Baptist Church – will this week hear a proposal for a new gay rights initiative in the city.
Chad Manspeaker, Topeka City Councilperson, has proposed that the city’s Human Rights Commission include discrimination based on gender identity or sexual orientation as part of its remit, a move which would allow the body to raise awareness of discrimination and take steps to help prevent it.
Speaking to the The Huffington Post, Manspeaker said: “This is a small step but a giant first step in showing the world that this is not a town of bigotry and hate but a town of inclusion.”
He added: “In terms of Topeka being an inclusive and open-minded community, we need to take these small steps.”
The Human Rights Commission approved the proposal in June by a 7-0 vote, but it must be approved by the city council before it can be adopted as official policy. The council plans to hear the proposal this week, and has set a provisional date of 17th September to consider acting upon it.
Manspeaker claimed that the proposal would serve as “the first step towards a larger protection for the LGBT community.”
Topeka is the state capital of Kansas and has served as the home of the Westboro Baptist Church since the group’s establishment in 1955. The church is infamous for picketing the funerals of US military personnel and those it perceives to be supportive of the LGBT community.
Councilperson Manspeaker made it clear that the church’s association with the city was not the motivating factor behind the proposal but nonetheless expressed his satisfaction with it, saying: “Do I run legislation like this because Westboro live in Topeka? No. But it sure feels kind of good.”
Last month, musician Ed Sheeran denounced the group, telling them to “keep your homophobic views to yourself” after members turned up to a concert bearing placards.
Manspeaker has previously spoken out against the Westboro Baptist Church, apologising to the town of Newtown, Connecticut, after the church blamed the school shooting there last December on gay rights.