Many Penn. Localities Leading by Example, Others Missing the Mark on Discrimination

As there is no statewide law in Pennsylvania that prohibits discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people, and with the issue stalled in committee for the past five consecutive legislative sessions (that's ten years and counting), concerned local municipalities have been forced to take up the issue on their own.  With last night’s unanimous (12-0) vote in support of an ordinance that prohibits discrimination against LGBT people in employment, housing and public accommodations, the Lower Merion Township became the 18th municipality in Pennsylvania to extend such protections to LGBT people.   Doylestown Borough is another success story.  In August, the Borough Council there also voted unanimously (9-0) in support of a law that protects LGBT people from discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations. Just as there have been triumphs (18 and counting) in local government with regard to making non-discrimination ordinances inclusive of LGBT people, there have also been tribulations - the most recent of which was in Hatboro, a suburb of Philadelphia. After the Hatboro Town Council voted 4-3 in support of an ordinance that would prohibit discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations on the basis of an individual's sexual orientation or gender identity, on Monday night Mayor Norm Hawkes, for the first time, exercised his right to veto the council’s vote.  While it seems that Mayor Hawkes is generally supportive of non-discrimination law, he defers his responsibility as a local leader to the state government – a state that already deals with discrimination claims at four times the national average and a state that has kept the issue of protecting LGBT people against discrimination stalled in committee for the previous five consecutive legislative sessions.  With Republicans now in control of both chambers of the Pennsylvania legislature, proponents of statewide non-discrimination legislation inclusive of LGBT people anticipate that the upcoming legislative session won’t see any movement on this issue either. In Hatboro, a special meeting will take place Tuesday night (December 14) to see if the Town Council can come up with at least one additional vote in support of the non-discrimination ordinance; a total of five (out of seven) votes are needed if a mayoral veto is to be overridden. (To read Hatboro's proposed human relations ordinance and Mayor Hawkes' veto, please click here.) Earlier this year, after being approached by advocates about making their existing human relations ordinance inclusive of LGBT people, Lancaster County commissioners voted 2-1 to get rid of the ordinance altogether, along with the 46-year-old Human Relations Commission that enforced it.  Their reasoning was that it cost the county too much money (specifically, $470,000, which breaks down to an annual cost of $1.39 per resident of Lancaster County).  With Lancaster County famous for its Amish residents and the largest source of tourism revenue for Pennsylvania, tourists (and prospective businesses) may soon want to pass through Lancaster County on their way to a place where $1.39 isn’t considered too high a price to pay for protecting against discrimination.  The potential economic implication here is that by disbanding the human relations ordinance, Lancaster County may lose more money than they intended to save. It’s one thing for a non-discrimination ordinance to be absent from a local municipality - and quite another for a would-be ordinance to be vetoed by a mayor or disbanded altogether by county commissioners.  In doing so, local leaders refute their responsibility to protect the people who elected them to serve with the peoples’ best interests in mind. GLAAD urges the media to shine a spotlight on the triumphs and tribulations of the non-discrimination work that’s taking place in Pennsylvania.  We especially hope that the media will be concerned with investigating and reporting this story as it is developing in places like Hatboro and Lancaster County, municipalities where, regardless of broad support from constituents and local leadership, the opinions of a few are causing some municipalities to move backwards despite the intent of many – perhaps even the majority – to do otherwise.