Wichita Mayor Lily Wu supports nondiscrimination ordinance, but faces skepticism

Lily Wu’s mayoral campaign left many skeptical of her support of LGBTQ+ issues in Wichita. Now, she’s dispelling rumors.

By Trace Salzbrenner

Anxiety about the Wichita mayor’s position on LGBTQ rights inspired a boldface post on Reddit.

“No Lily Wu at Pride!”

The post accused Wu of not voting to ratify June as Pride Month and of opposing the city’s ordinance barring discrimination on sex, gender identity and sexual orientation.

The mayor says those worries are unfounded.

“Despite rumors, the non-discrimination ordinance is not going anywhere on my watch,” Wu said in an email to The Beacon Wichita, disputing both claims.

Yet people advocating for LGBTQ+ people in the city harbor doubts about her commitment to protecting their rights.

Chris Pumpelly, founder of Proud of Wichita, said the community needs convincing that the mayor elected less than a year ago has their back.

“Right now, we have a leader who said that nondiscrimination and inclusion are divisive,” he said, referring to an answer Wu gave at a forum last year when she was running for mayor.

Questions began during the campaign

Since the beginning of her campaign, activists and community members have worried about Wu’s stance on LGBTQ+ issues. 

She received campaign money and other support from the Koch-funded Americans for Prosperity. The group’s super PAC has backed vocal anti-LGBTQ+ candidates, but the conservative donor network has never publicly supported anti-LGBTQ+ policies. Its primary focus has been to limit taxes and government regulations.

She ran against then-incumbent Brandon Whipple, who billed himself as the pro-LGBTQ+ candidate. Whipple would often directly state his support for LGBTQ+ policies while Wu would avoid the question. 

Whipple stoked fears about Wu during debates, connecting Wu to right-wing policies and pointing to shaky answers given by Wu during debates and through mailers. 

“The way (Whipple) brought forth that ordinance creates division,” Wu said during the debate last September. 

During that same debate, the candidates were asked how to protect transgender people in the aftermath of a bill passed in Kansas that forced all people to use the bathroom associated with the gender they were assigned at birth. 

While she said that she “respects all individuals,” she used the rest of her time to talk about the accessibility of restrooms for the elderly. That represented the pattern she used to deal with LGBTQ+ questions throughout the campaign.

That fed a perception among her critics of someone who could potentially target that community. 

“We were concerned because we asked questions, and we didn’t always get a lot of detail, a lot of commitment from all the candidates,” said Will Rapp, managing director of the Kansas branch of the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network. “But we’ve been encouraged by what we see now.” 

Will Lily Wu repeal the nondiscrimination ordinance?

Many LGBTQ+ activists, including Rapp and Pumpelly, say Wichita’s nondiscrimination ordinance is a triumph of inclusion for the city and should be celebrated. 

While Wu sidestepped questions during her campaign about Wichita’s nondiscrimination ordinance, which was adopted in 2021, she now pledges to protect it. 

“I value individual liberty and will continue to support all Wichitans, which includes our LGBTQ+ community,” she said in an email. 

Pumpelly said repealing the ordinance would be “bad business.”

“Bigotry is a bad look,” he said. “Exclusion says I want fewer dollars. Inclusion means I want more. I want a bigger market. I want better employees for businesses.” 

He’s also not convinced that Wu’s words are sincere. 

“It’s easy to make commitments in the abstract, but the mayor has also committed to avoid controversy,” Pumpelly said. “Often issues that impact the civil rights of members of our community are controversial and require someone willing to actively defend our hard-won protections.”

Wu said that many organizations in Wichita have been increasing public support for LGBTQ+ residents, which promotes “a safer and more inclusive environment.”

Did Lily Wu vote against Pride?

In recent years, the Wichita City Council has voted to proclaim June as Pride Month. The Reddit post pointed out Wu did not vote on that issue.

A records request on the city’s record portal website shows the email vote. Brandon Johnson, Becky Tuttle, Dalton Glasscock and Maggie Ballard all approved the proclamation. 

Proclamation votes are often handled by email and only need four votes to pass. J.V. Johnston and Mike Hoheisel also did not send in email votes for the Pride Month proclamation. The records request could not show any evidence of an attempted verbal vote. 

“I did not vote against it,” Wu said. “I simply didn’t vote because by the time I got to it, it had the necessary votes.” 

During the first June council meeting, Wu read the approved proclamation, inviting Glasscock, an openly gay city council member, to the podium with her. 

Trickle-down anxiety

Rapp said that people are more anxious right now because of the national political climate.  

The Human Rights Campaign declared a state of emergency last year after a wave of legislation across the country that restricted LGBTQ+ rights. 

Republican lawmakers in Kansas passed and overrode vetoes to enact laws that restrict the definition of sex and gender, ban transgender women from competing in girls’ and women’s sports and prevent transgender people from using the restroom aligned with their gender identity

“Bills attacking gender-affirming care and others, it can cause a lot of undue stress,” Rapp said. “Even if something doesn’t go into law, it’s a fear tactic. It’s cruel and it’s mean-spirited.” 

A national survey of LGBTQ+ kids and teens conducted by The Trevor Project, an LGBTQ+ advocacy group, found that the well-being of 90% of respondents was negatively impacted by recent politics. 

Pumpelly said that Wichita has made strides in supporting its LGBTQ+ residents by passing the nondiscrimination ordinance, and that the city should continue in that direction.

Wu said her focus remains on all of Wichita.

“To move Wichita forward,” Wu said, “it’s important we focus on community priorities: crime, streets, economic development, and homelessness.”

Pumpelly says he will wait and see. 

“I watch what politicians do,” he said. “Not what they say.”

This article was republished here with the permission of: The Beacon