Ruby Johnson said she began to live as herself when she came out in Lawrence.
“It was a trust fall. I held my arms out. I leaned back until I hit the tipping point and I fell,” Johnson said.
“I was not initially caught. Many people, many institutions that I knew stepped away — my country, my state, my loved ones. But right before I hit the ground, my LGBTQIA+ siblings placed their hands out, and they caught me, and they helped me,” Johnson continued.
Johnson asked Lawrence city commissioners Tuesday evening to approve a safe haven ordinance to create more protections for transgender and gender-nonconforming people. And they did, 5-0.
Johnson said the motives of the legislators who passed the anti-transgender Senate Bill 180 this spring remain opaque to her, but “the only way I can make it make sense is that they want me gone,” along with others who share her values in this community.
“I believe that our city has the will and the drive to stand with my siblings and myself and not allow the people who hold these values, this community, to be silenced and made invisible,” Johnson told the commission. She encouraged the commission to approve Ordinance 9999 and said she looked forward to seeing further actions.
SB 180, which proponents dubbed the “women’s bill of rights” even though it enumerates no rights for women, was intended to bar trans people from gender-specific facilities that align with their gender identities.
Activists, including many affiliated with the group No SB 180 in Lawrence, urged the city to codify a firm stance against SB 180. On June 20, Vice Mayor Bart Littlejohn asked city staff to work with the activists to bring the safe haven ordinance to fruition. Ordinance No. 9999 declares the city “to be a safe, inclusive, and welcoming City and a safe haven for all persons seeking shelter from the adversity of discrimination, in all its forms, including those persons affected by Senate Bill 180 as enacted,” according to the meeting agenda.
Commissioners heard from several people Tuesday in favor of the ordinance. One person, David Hamm, spoke against the ordinance, telling the commission he thinks SB 180 protects women and children and the ordinance should go to a vote of the people.
Monroe Hanson spoke to the commission directly after Hamm.
“This ordinance is necessary in response to recent state legislation, namely SB 180, in order to ensure trans people can continue to exist and live freely in Lawrence without undue fear and targeted harassment,” they said. “The people who love and accept their trans neighbors far outweigh the number of people who do not.”
Commissioners approved the ordinance unanimously, some of them getting a little choked up in their discussion.
“I want to thank everybody again for for coming here tonight and supporting it and working with our city staff to get this done very quickly,” Mayor Lisa Larsen said. “If you realize what government is about, it takes a long time sometimes to get things through, so, proud of staff as well as the community for working on this.”
Commissioner Courtney Shipley said she was glad to see a new generation of activists, and to watch continued activism and collaboration. She also recalled when the commission passed an ordinance banning conversion therapy back in 2021 and said commissioners had every reason to be proud of that one, also.
Commissioner Brad Finkeldei requested a minor tweak to language to make the ordinance stronger in case it is challenged, though he said he would support the ordinance with or without the change. His fellow commissioners agreed.
City legal staff will review that and bring it back to the commission for the second reading and approval of the ordinance, most likely at the commission’s Aug. 1 meeting.
Here’s the ordinance from the meeting agenda:20230713-Draft-ordinance-9999-2
Note: Post updated at 9:25 p.m. Tuesday, July 18 to add more photos
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Molly Adams (she/her), photojournalist and news operations coordinator for The Lawrence Times, can be reached at molly (at) lawrencekstimes (dot) com. Check out more of her work for the Times here. Check out her staff bio here.