Bethlehem advances rights bill

Bethlehem advances rights bill

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Bethlehem took a decisive step last week toward becoming the next municipality in Pennsylvania to ban LGBT discrimination.

A three-member committee of the Bethlehem City Council voted unanimously April 28 to send an LGBT nondiscrimination measure to the full council, where it will be introduced May 18.

It is expected to come up for its final vote June 7, according to Adrian Shanker, vice president of the Pennsylvania Diversity Network, who, along with the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania and Equality Pennsylvania, is leading the effort to pass the measure.

If the council adopts the bill, Bethlehem would become the 21st jurisdiction in the state to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

All members of the council attended the meeting, as did the mayor, along with about 100 community members, several dozen of whom spoke out in favor of the ordinance. The bill received no opposition from those in the crowd.

In addition to banning LGBT discrimination, the measure would also create a Human Relations Commission to handle discrimination complaints.

Mayor John Callahan told the crowd assembled at the meeting last Thursday night that the ordinance would “send a clear message that Bethlehem welcomes citizens from all kinds of backgrounds and that we will ensure that they will have an equal opportunity to succeed here in Bethlehem.”

Shanker said the standing-room-only crowd was unusual for a committee meeting, which usually attracts a handful of people.

Apart from the LGBT organizations pressing for the bill, more than 100 nonprofits, unions, faith leaders and businesses in the area signed on to a statement of support.

In attendance at the meeting were representatives of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the Association for the Advancement of Retired People and the Bethlehem YWCA.

The lack of controversy was welcomed, Shanker said, and indicative of the changing tide in support of LGBT protections.

“I don’t think it’s necessarily unique for 2011, but rather telling of 2011,” he said. “This is just not a controversial thing anymore. People have the basic right to not be discriminated against. That certainly doesn’t mean we don’t need to fight for this, but it means our opposition is showing up less and less.”

Bethlehem is the state’s largest city to not have an LGBT-inclusive ordinance; the six larger cities have all adopted such measures, along with 14 other jurisdictions, most recently Conshohocken Borough earlier this month.

Jen Colletta can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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