Although the Pennsylvania legislature has yet to move forward on a proposed statewide LGBT nondiscrimination bill, an increasing number of activists at the local level are working to ensure that LGBT protections are in place in their towns.
Last week, lawmakers in Lower Merion introduced an LGBT nondiscrimination ordinance, while the borough council in Hatboro formed a subcommittee that will begin drafting a similar measure.
In Lower Merion, a Montgomery County suburb on the Main Line, the measure was introduced to the township commission Sept. 15, and a three-person committee was formed to redraft the legislation before a vote is held in the next few weeks.
Jason Landau Goodman, of Lower Merion, began mobilizing support for the LGBT ordinance last year, presenting the issue to the commission, as well as area residents and business owners.
“I was born and raised in Lower Merion and am a fourth-generation resident,” Landau Goodman said, noting that while he hasn’t experienced any outright discrimination because of his orientation, others in the area have. “I love my township, and I wanted to make it a better place. Lower Merion is a wonderful place to live, but there are people who have experienced discrimination, and one case is too many for Lower Merion.”
After a public meeting on the issue in July, during which LGBT residents spoke about their own experiences with discrimination, commissioners voted to draft the ordinance, and Landau Goodman said the measure has seen continued support from the lawmakers.
Currently, 17 municipalities in the state prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, the most recent of which was Doylestown, which approved an LGBT-nondiscrimination bill last month. Lawmakers in Radnor Township are expected to introduce an LGBT-rights measure in the coming weeks, and Landau Goodman said activists in Tredyffrin Township and three other suburban areas are also organizing such efforts.
Hatboro resident Andrea Myers said she was motivated to make her hometown more LGBT-friendly after reading a newspaper article this summer about the efforts in Doylestown, Lower Merion and other suburbs.
Myers, a Hatboro native, knows discrimination firsthand: She was discharged from the military under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” in 2002.
While she said Hatboro is generally genial to LGBT individuals, having a law on the books could preclude future incidents.
“It’s really like a small town: Everyone knows each other,” Myers said. “And everyone agrees that no one should be discriminated against. A lot of people I’ve talked to just weren’t aware that there’s this gap in state law that doesn’t cover LGBT individuals.”
Myers, who has done volunteer work with Hatboro councilmembers, contacted the representatives she knows, and she said council vice president Nancy Guenst was eager to spearhead the measure.
“I don’t think this measure is only needed in Hatboro, I think it’s needed everywhere,” Guenst said. “Discrimination of people shouldn’t be allowed anywhere, no matter how small that town might be.”
Although the measure has met some resistance from the three Republican councilmembers, the four Democrats are in favor.
The Republicans have insisted that LGBT discrimination is a “political issue” as opposed to a human-rights issue, “which is really a shame,” Guenst said. “They need to remember to put the rights of the people way ahead of our own political differences.”
The subcommittee tasked with drafting the bill, comprised of Guenst, councilmember Aleta Ostrander and Hatboro solicitor Michael Savona, will meet Sept. 24 to begin the process.
“We’re working at a fairly quick pace but will be working toward a resolution that hopefully the entire council can get behind,” Guenst said. “It’s hard to say how long that may take, but our aim is for before the end of the year.”
Outside of council, Myers said the pending ordinance has been lauded by everyone from “church members to staunch Republicans,” which, she added, should send a clear message to Harrisburg.
“This is not just big cities that are ready for this. Hatboro is a very small town, and if we’re OK with it, a lot of the rest of Pennsylvania is going to be OK with it, too,” Myers said. “Even though they’re taking their sweet time with [House Bill 300], municipalities are willing to work to close that gap and provide protections for their citizens.”
Landau Goodman said while he’s hopeful the state Legislature takes note of the growing list of municipalities stepping up to ban LGBT discrimination, the recent efforts have demonstrated that grassroots progress is possible.
“We’re doing this on our own for the betterment of our own communities, and that’s something we should take a lot of pride in,” he said. “This is just us, as individual citizens, networking within our community, building support and having the commitment to take this responsibility on for ourselves.”