26th municipality to pass anti-discrimination law
By a seven to one bipartisan vote Susquehanna Twp. Commissioners on Dec. 8 adopted a non-discrimination ordinance proposed by township resident Steve Dorko. One commissioner was absent.
The process began last July and garnered mostly support from township residents, although anti-gay Pittsburgh-based American Family Association of PA unsuccessfully joined the debate.
The township is the 26th municipality in the state to pass such an ordinance. The new law bans discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, and discrimination based on genetic information for what the municipality defines as public accommodations.
At press time, advocates in Cheltenham Township were working through the new ordinance process with that municipality’s board of commissioners. Equality PA president Adrian Shanker told Central Voice that he’d testified before the board that passing the ordinance makes it clear “discrimination against anyone, including LGBT people, is simply unwelcome” and that “discrimination is not a value of this community.” The proposed Cheltenham measure applies to employment, housing, and public accommodation.
There were 14 speakers at the meeting with 12 speaking in favor of passage, two speakers were opposed. The other big issue item on the agenda was the 2012 budget. “The budget did not draw a single comment,” Dorko noted.
“Ordinance comments were overwhelming positive,” Dorko said, pointing out that the American Family Association of PA did circulate email communications to township residents advising readers not “to make the same mistake several southeastern Pennsylvania townships have made recently.”
“I don’t see our actions as making a mistake,” township board of commissioners president Diane Bowman told Central Voice. LGBT residents are “not unworthy, just different.”
Upon initially proposing the ordinance, Dorko cited inaction by the Pa. General Assembly in enacting statewide anti-discrimination protections, even though 25 municipalities in the state already have such protections, although the state’s three largest cities – Altoona, Wilkes-Barre, and Williamsport – do not.
Most recently, Jenkintown Borough and Whitemarsh Township, both in Montgomery County, passed protective ordinances, preceded by Bethlehem. The complete list includes: Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Allentown, Erie (County), Allegheny (County), Reading, Scranton, Bethlehem, Lancaster (City), Harrisburg, York, State College, Easton, Newton Borough, Swarthmore, Lower Merion Township, West Chester, New Hope, Landsdown, Doylestown, Conshohocken, Haverford, Springfield Township, and Montgomery County.
Over the past year, Equality PA has combined efforts with locally-based advocates to pass ordinances in eight municipalities.
“We are really just doing what state legislators have told us to do all along on non-discrimination,” Equality PA executive director Ted Martin told Central Voice. “Pass local ordinances and that will build grassroots pressure on us to act they say. So we have made passing ordinances a top priority and we wanted 25 on the books by 2012,” he said.
“Many ordinances have passed with bipartisan support and our opposition has learned that the world did not end,” Martin said. “We have 12 other communities” in various stages of organizing ways to have similar ordinances passed in their municipalities, he noted, adding “we get more calls on this subject than you can imagine.”