Lower Merion last week became the 18th municipality in the state to ban LGBT discrimination.
The township commission of the Main Line locale unanimously approved a measure Dec. 8 that prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in public accommodations, housing and employment. The ordinance also created a human-relations commission to investigate discrimination complaints.
The 12-0 vote came just two days after the mayor of Hatboro vetoed a similar ordinance that borough council had passed last month. Both municipalities are in Montgomery County but, because of the veto, Lower Merion will now be the first in the county to adopt an LGBT nondiscrimination ordinance. This week, the Haverford Township Commission voted to delay a vote on its proposed nondiscrimination ordinance. The 5-4 vote to table the measure came Monday after debate among the commissioners about the possible costs associated with the bill.
The Lower Merion law went into effect immediately, and applications for the human-relations commission are being accepted until Jan. 4, after which the township commission will select the panel.
The measure was first addressed during a council meeting this past summer by Jason Landau Goodman, a University of Pennsylvania student and a lifelong Lower Merion resident.
Goodman said last Tuesday’s meeting was the first time in which a small group of detractors surfaced, although they were outnumbered by the large contingent of LGBTs and allies who turned out in favor of the ordinance.
“There were a few people who spoke against it but before that night not one Lower Merion resident had come before the board to speak in opposition to the ordinance,” Goodman said, noting that the measure has seen widespread support since its introduction in September. “On our side, we were organized and coordinated and were working on this for over a year. We took the time to talk to each commissioner, had the support of the civic association and were supported completely by the board in the crafting of the ordinance. It was a great achievement for Lower Merion.”
The fact that the vote was unanimous made the victory even sweeter, Goodman said.
“We knew the vote was coming and it was something we’d been working for and waiting for, but to have it be unanimous was just such a wonderful thing,” he said. “It really reflects that the commissioners truly value and respect all of the residents of Lower Merion and all of their neighbors.”
Commission president Bruce Reed said Goodman first raised the possibility of the ordinance to him on Election Day in 2009, and he commended Goodman for his perseverance throughout the process.
Reed said he saw little opposition from the public, many of whom he noted assumed such a law was already in place.
“Within Lower Merion as a whole, there was almost completely uniform support,” Reed said. “The small opposition that did come up in the very last meeting was external to the township. People in Lower Merion saw this as something that was overdue. Many people I spoke with thought that, amongst the protected categories in anti-discrimination legislation, that gay people were already included. A lot of time people were shocked to find out that there wasn’t such a protection.”
The measure that passed last week was the third draft of the bill. While the main thrust of the bill did not change since its inception, the scope of the human relations commission’s investigatory power was expanded to encompass the other state-protected characteristics, in addition to sexual orientation and gender identity.
Goodman said he’s been in touch with several activists from throughout the state who are also spearheading similar local-level initiatives, despite the state legislature’s inability to advance a statewide nondiscrimination measure.
“It’s really great that this is happening and that we’re all sharing ideas with one another. This is a local issue, so it’s great to see communities taking ownership of this issue on their own because the state and the U.S. Congress aren’t at the moment,” Goodman said. “We have state legislators in this area who have been champions for LGBT rights and we’d like for someday a nondiscrimination law to be put into place at the state level, but for now, more and more municipalities need to keep passing these ordinances to keep their residents safe.”
Reed agreed and said that, while the adoption of the measure will ultimately benefit the residents of Lower Merion, he’s eager for it to also make an important statement to the state’s elected officials about the need for such legislation across Pennsylvania.
“It’s so unfortunate that neither the federal nor the state government has extended nondiscrimination legislation to sexual orientation. So aside from us just wanting to provide this basic protection, we thought it was very important to send a message to our legislators in Harrisburg about the fact that an increasing number of communities believes this protection needs to be afforded and that they need to act on this on a statewide basis,” he said. “I said at the conclusion of the meeting that I hope the day comes where this statute falls into disuse because it won’t be needed anymore because it will have been superceded by the state.”
Goodman said the effort to pass the bill has mobilized LGBT residents of Lower Merion, an area he said is uniquely different from other Pennsylvania locales that have adopted similar measures.
“Lower Merion is not a large city or very small borough like places where this has passed before. It’s a very large suburb and, through this whole effort, we’ve really developed pride in that. People can have pride to live in the suburbs and in Lower Merion, where we’re now protected under law. It’s a wonderful feeling.”