On July 5, Mayor John Callahan of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, signed into law a local ordinance that criminalizes discrimination against LGBT people. The ordinance protects LGBT people from unfair treatment in housing, employment, public accommodation and education.
After its initial introduction by Mayor Callahan last September, as well as a series of public hearings and testimony, the ordinance was unanimously passed by the City Council this July. It received endorsements from over 40 businesses, 25 faith leaders and 13 labor unions. The law also mandates the creation of a Human Relations Commission to ensure its enforcement.
Bethlehem is now the 21st municipality in the state of Pennsylvania to implement anti-discrimination protections for LGBT people. Last December, the Lower Merion Township became the 18th municipality to do so, followed by Haverford and Conshohocken Borough earlier this year. Prior to this point in time, Bethlehem was the largest city in Pennsylvania without LGBT-inclusive anti-discrimination legislation, leaving Altoona as the next largest. Commenting on the effects of the new law, Mayor Callahan said, “Today’s the day that we can say finally, all the people are protected equally here in the city.” Equality Pennsylvania, an LGBT advocacy organization based in Harrisburg and Philadelphia, recently released a graphic map based on 2011 polling results that shows the growing support for LGBT-inclusive anti-discrimination laws by region.
As local governments in Pennsylvania continue to make great strides for LGBT equality, more attention is drawn to the lack of protections provided at the state level. Currently, the state provides no legal protections against discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity and expression. Speaking to this issue, Vice President of Pennsylvania Diversity Network (PDN) Adrian Shanker said, “It’s unfortunate that we need to go city by city to pass basic laws that say you can’t discriminate.” PDN’s Executive Director Liz Bradbury echoed these sentiments in a statement released by the LGBT advocacy organization regarding Bethlehem’s law, saying, “Hundreds of people turned out for the meetings to demonstrate the need for basic civil rights in Bethlehem. Every city needs this law, and there is no rational reason not to have it.”
GLAAD applauds Mayor Callahan for making anti-discrimination protections for LGBT people a priority. In the absence of a statewide law, it is important that residents and municipal governments continue to show their support for such legislation while working to ensure LGBT equality at the local level.