The Borough of North Wales passed a nondiscrimination ordinance last week, making it the 22nd Montgomery County municipality to extend employment, housing and public accommodation protections to the LGBTQ community.
The legislation passed Oct. 22 with a 7-1 vote in Borough Council. One member of the 9-person team was not present during the decision.
“For those who don’t believe [discrimination] is an issue, you don’t believe it’s an issue because you haven’t experienced it,” said North Wales Borough Council President Jim Sando, who introduced the ordinance. “That doesn’t mean it’s not an issue, and so I want North Wales to be an inclusive community and send the message that everybody matters.”
Over about the last 10 years, the first 21 ordinances were implemented across the county, Sando added. But the North Wales legislation is among the first municipalities to include language specifically extending nondiscrimination protections based on “political affiliation."
“The practice or policy of engaging in discrimination or discriminatory practices against any individual or group, because of actual or perceived race, color, age, religious creed, ancestry, sex, national origin, political affiliation, handicap or use of guide or support animals because of blindness, deafness, hard of hearing, or physical handicap of the user or because the user is a handler or trainer of support or guide animals, or because of an individual’s sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression is a matter of highest public concern, and constitutes a paramount threat to the rights, privileges, peace and good order of the citizens of North Wales Borough,” the ordinance reads.
Sando said that when he stepped into the role of council president almost two years ago, he was dedicated to passing an inclusive nondiscrimination ordinance. In 1980, after Sando and his wife moved to North Wales, the couple went to their polling place to vote in an election. Upon their arrival, a poll worker said, “Oh, you’re the Democrats.”
“The political climate in Montgomery County has been becoming more progressive over the last 10 or 15 years,” Sando noted. “Nonetheless, we have folks on the other side of the aisle that have an equal voice, an equal say and when this issue was brought up, there are people who get discriminated against because of their political affiliation.”
By January, the borough aims to launch a five-member human relations commission to address community concerns related to violations of the nondiscrimination ordinance. If issues cannot be resolved internally by the team, representatives from the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission will be asked to help.
North Wales is now accepting applications to sit on the commission.
Richard Buttacavoli, co-founder of the Montgomery County LGBT Business Council, said he thinks the recently passed ordinance could have a positive economic impact on North Wales and encourage queer entrepreneurs to start their own businesses.
“Businesses are watching state legislatures and local councils and investing in areas that foster diversity and inclusion because that leads to a robust workforce and operational excellence. Municipal leaders in Montco realize this,” Buttacavoli told PGN, adding, “Ordinances protect folks like me from being discriminated in housing, as well as help protect employees and customers from discrimination.”
According to the nonprofit data organization Movement Advancement Project, only 34 percent of Pennsylvania residents are protected from discrimination based on both sexual orientation and gender identity by local ordinances. Fifty-four municipalities including Philadelphia, Allentown, Harrisburg and North Wales have ordinances banning such discrimination. No explicit statewide LGBTQ anti-discrimination protection exists.
Sando said he hopes North Wales sets an example for other Pennsylvania municipalities and the state as a whole in fighting discrimination.
“Since Pennsylvania doesn’t have any [statewide] protections, my perspective is the more communities step up and say, ‘This is important to us, if you’re not going to do it, we’re going to do it,’ it sends the message to Harrisburg it’s time for you to step up and do it,” he added.