Bethlehem, PA – Following a three-hour public comment hearing last night (4/28/2011), the Bethlehem City Council Human Resources and Environment Committee voted 3-0 to refer the proposed Human Relations Ordinance to the full council, with their support.
The Committee, chaired by Gordon Mowrer, also consists of Jean Belinski and David DiGiacinto. All members of council and the Mayor attended the meeting. Almost 100 community members attended with 3o speaking in favor and noone spoke against.
Mayor John Callahan introduced the ordinance in September, and told council that “this important piece of legislation is long overdue. As a City, we have to be welcoming to everyone.” Councilwoman Karen Dolan urged “Swift passage” by the full council as they consider the ordinance for the first reading on May 18th.
If passed, Bethlehem will become the 21st municipality in Pennsylvania to ban discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity or expression, in addition to the enumerated protected classes in the state Human Relations Act, according to Stephen Glassman, Chairperson of the PA Human Relations Commission. Glassman was on hand to provide expert testimony and to answer questions regarding the legislation at the Committee hearing.
Adrian Shanker, Vice President of Pennsylvania Diversity Network, led the campaign to build public support for this ordinance. The ordinance is endorsed by 100+ organizations, businesses, labor unions, and religious leaders in Bethlehem. Shanker stated, “there is no rational reason to oppose this legislation. Which is why there is such broad public support from the arts, labor, faith, business, and civil rights communities.” Shanker noted that the legislation is supported by, among others, the AARP, Planned Parenthood, ArtsQuest, ACLU, Equality PA, Lehigh Valley Labor Council, and 39 businesses.
Recent statewide polling commissioned by EqualityPA indicates sustained and strong support for non-discrimination laws protecting people on the basis of Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity. Executive Director, Ted Martin, said “the support for this is so strong because most people know what is right and what is wrong, and they know discrimination is simply wrong.”
Pennsylvania Diversity Network led the campaign to pass this legislation in Allentown, Easton, and Reading as well. Liz Bradbury, Executive Director, is “hopeful that [she] can soon recommend Bethlehem as a safe place to live, work or visit for everyone.”
The legislation now goes before the full council, and it is expected they will support the final version and send it back to Mayor Callahan for his signature.
Pennsylvania Diversity Network is the Lehigh Valley-based LGBT advocacy organization, and is the largest membership-driven LGBT organization in the Commonwealth of PA. http://www.PADiversity.org