Local nondiscrimination ordinances see progress, roadblocks

Local nondiscrimination ordinances see progress, roadblocks

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Three nondiscrimination ordinances were recently discussed in Pennsylvania town council meetings, with two moving forward and one being tabled. 

On March 6, the Borough Council of Kennett Square voted unanimously to approve an ordinance prohibiting discrimination based on a number of factors, including sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression. Meanwhile, a March 8 city council meeting in Johnstown included a forum for public comments on the proposed Nondiscrimination & Hate Crimes Ordinance but the initiative was tabled for a later date. A third ordinance, entitled "Antidiscrimination,” moved forward March 15 at a Phoenixville Borough Council meeting.

Mayra Zavala, vice chair of the Advisory Commission on Latino Affairs, spearheaded the Kennett Square effort after recent concerns about discrimination against the Latinx community. Zavala was not immediately available for comment on this story. 

Meanwhile, in a 4-2 vote, Johnstown City Council deferred a nondiscrimination ordinance, citing ongoing federal legal action involving transgender issues. 

John DeBartola, Keystone Alliance/Gaylife Newsletter president and Johnstown mayoral candidate, spearheaded the nondiscrimination bill. This bill has been the topic of protests by religious conservatives. DeBartola noted that critics have referred to the LGBT community as “pedophiles.”

“The city council has a bad habit of tabling things that are controversial,” said DeBartola, who is openly gay. “They don’t like to take a stand. I was disappointed in that but it is what it is. We are going to keep the pressure going.” 

Johnstown lawmakers expect to discuss this bill, along with an LGBT-inclusive hate-crimes measure, in the next few months.

“These people took a bill that was to guarantee equality and nondiscrimination in housing and the workplace and they turned it into a bathroom issue,” DeBartola said. 

A 6-1 vote in Phoenixville passed a third nondiscrimination ordinance. Phoenixville Councilman Edwin Soto said he was "very excited and very happy with the end result.”

"This means that Phoenixville stands with other municipalities in the Commonwealth that reject the concept of discrimination, specifically for the LGBT community, expanding on protected classes which Pennsylvania does not protect," Soto said. "This is a huge win for that section of our population. In addition to that, it also helps us form a human-relations commission which acts primarily as a mediator, especially in small municipalities like ourselves.”

Pennsylvania Youth Congress Executive Director Jason Landau Goodman offered advice for locals to get involved in adopting nondiscrimination ordinances by their own governments.

“I encourage people to do their research, to look at what has already been adopted across the state, to reach out to organizations that have worked on these issues, and to really look inward about your own community,” Goodman said. “That’s what these ordinances are about. This is the time for you to have these conversations with local leaders, with your neighbors, about the importance of inclusion, unity and respect.”


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