In a 7-3 vote, Chambersburg Borough Council approved the passage of a non-discrimination ordinance to fill a protection gap in Pennsylvania law for the local LGBTQ + community.
Council rooms were packed on Monday night, with seats packed in the hallway totaling nearly 100 people. 140 other people participated virtually.
Public comments and council deliberations lasted nearly four hours, with more than 50 residents – from inside and outside the borough – approaching council to support or disapprove the adoption of such an order.
The nondiscrimination agreement is modeled on the Gettysburg ordinance, which was passed unanimously by council last December.
In late April, Chambersburg Borough Council approved the creation of an exploratory committee to research similar ordinances in communities across the state, speak with subject matter experts, and address community concerns. A petition with 350 signatures was presented to council in support of an order.
Kathy Leedy, Third Ward, Michael Herbert, Second Ward, and Heath Talhelm, Fifth Ward, were selected by Board Chair Alice Elia to chair the committee and address the Board and the public about their findings.
The report presented on Monday night explained that Pennsylvania is the only northeastern state that does not have explicit legal protection against LGBTQ + discrimination statewide. However, 69 communities, covering 35% of the state’s population, have passed local ordinances to bridge the gap.
A local ordinance would make discrimination in housing, employment and public housing (including shops, restaurants, theaters, hotels) illegal.
“In our opinion, it is not an extreme position to have an ordinance that requires residents, businesses and organizations to treat everyone in the community equally in matters of housing, employment and housing. public, ”the report says.
If a person files a discrimination complaint with the borough, that person would also be encouraged to file a double file with the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission, a state agency responsible for investigating allegations of discrimination.
The case would first go to confidential, non-binding mediation, where a local human relations commission made up of trained volunteers, potentially including pastors, counselors, lawyers, etc., would hear both sides. Volunteers would be offered free training from the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission.
If the local board is unable to resolve the issue, the state Human Relations Commission will pursue the matter at no cost to the complainant or the borough.
Read the full report here:
While some residents have expressed concerns about the costs to taxpayers, the committee has remained steadfast in its report that there would be few costs associated with such an order.
Many in the community voiced a number of additional concerns, including unintended consequences, accountability to business owners, impact on religious freedoms, and creating an opportunity for sexual predators.
Danny Thrush, of Chambersburg, said he does not believe discrimination exists in Chambersburg.
“I firmly believe that the pressure for this ordinance is not based on truth or facts, but it is based on a very dangerous ideology which has spread in our country and is now trying to infiltrate our community,” said he declared.
Thomas Hofekker, owner of a small business in Chambersburg, is concerned about his liability.
“In this day when feelings are so fragile, as the owner of a very small business, I will be forced to decide if I can – and if I will – continue to do business in Chambersburg,” he said. he declares. “In a day of frivolous lawsuits, the legal ramifications of passing this ordinance would not only be financially devastating for my business, but the damage to my reputation as a Christian businessman could have untold consequences.”
Brenda Honn, of Mercersburg, said she was a concerned citizen taking a stand.
“People are so sensitive to everything these days – people are looking for discrimination, even when it’s not there,” she said. “What happened to this world when we can’t look at someone without being accused of racism or discrimination based on gender, sexual orientation. People were already on the defensive and things like Critical Race Theory and Cancel Culture didn’t help. “
Ron Gipe, of Chambersburg, said he has been in charge of human relations departments for nearly 50 years for three large employers in Franklin County.
“I think there is a gap in Pennsylvania related to housing, I will give it away,” he said. “But let’s talk about employment. The employment has been absolutely guaranteed. There is discrimination, but there is a remedy for anyone discriminated against by a Franklin County employer who has 15 or more employees. the Civil Rights Act, Section 7, 1964. “
Kimberly Wertz, of Chambersburg, said those opposed to the ordinance had not been discriminated against.
“Well guess what, here I am,” Wertz said. “I have been discriminated against and my life has been threatened. I am trans.”
Matt McBride, a former Chambersburg educator, criticized those who opposed the ordinance.
“The common thread that I have seen through those who stand on this podium is that they are against discrimination as long as nothing is asked of them, there is no way their life will change a day and as long as it’s on their terms, “he said.
Melissa Matison challenged those who said they had not seen discrimination in Chambersburg.
“I am in favor of this ordinance because discrimination exists. When my son was born seven years ago, we had a hard time finding a daycare that would accommodate him because he had two mothers. This was a problem for a lot of daycares around here… it will give me the peace of mind that I have a place to go if needed.
Brendon Bittle, of Chambersburg, was enraged by those who challenged the scoping committee report.
“I was amazed at how many people didn’t bother to listen to Council Member Leedy when she stood up and spoke about the definition of all of this,” he said. “These people are not protected, so the fact that a number of people come here and say that these people are protected without listening to logic, reasoning and facts is remarkable.”
He was one of the many speakers who noted a recent publication, “Out in Central PA” by William Burton and Barry Loveland.
“It was released in 2020 and it contains a litany of information on serious accusations and things that have happened in the past,” he said.
In addition, three religious leaders from the community – Christopher Frye, pastor at St. Luke Evangelical Church, Scott Bowerman, pastor at Central Presbyterian Church and Renatta Harper, Reverend at St. James AME Church – expressed their support. support for the non-discrimination order.
“My walk of faith is as a believer in Jesus Christ and he said they will know we are Christians by our love,” Harper said. “I don’t know what all the answers are. I might see you all one day on the other side and then he’ll explain everything to you. But until then I know my job is to treat everyone and give to everyone the opportunity to live in a place where they feel free, and where they are not judged by how they identify. “
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Following public comments, Herbert brought forward a motion to pass a nondiscrimination order, seconded by Telhalm.
Council member Allan Coffman, who has been reprimanded for discrimination this year, criticized the way the Council handled the case.
“This protection already exists at the state and federal levels,” he said. “The committee recommended this to us. Thank you to the committee for the good job they have done, but you have to remember that this committee was hand picked, handpicked by the chairman of the board. There was no member of this group who was against it. It was a stacked game. This is how I feel about it. “
Coffman and board member Bill Everly said approval of the order was rushed.
“My question to everyone in this room is what the big hurry is,” Everly said. “Why is this being forced tonight? Why isn’t there more discussion, when both sides have made productive comments tonight? Why won’t there be more any dialogue about this? Why is this being forced down the attorney’s throat tonight? “
Board member Sharon Bigler, who works as a therapist, addressed some of the community’s concerns.
“I keep hearing about sex offenders, and I keep hearing about sex in the bathroom, and oh my god you know there’s going to be sex here and sex there- low, ”she said. “I want to tell you something. Take this home and think about it. The predators in your life – most of them are not the people who are in the bathroom, waiting for your child to come in. Your predators are yours. next-door neighbors or your teacher, Uncle Bobby. “
She expressed her support for the ordinance.
“That’s the nature of the game,” she said. “It’s the nature of being human. You are all here tonight because you believed in something, and because you had concerns about something, and you are looking at this advice. We are not perfect, but I would ask this, if we can just at least be compassionate, accepting and understanding. “
Herbert, Leedy, Talhelm, Dennis Schmaltz, Barbara Beattie, Bigler and Elia voted in favor of passing the ordinance.
John Huber, Everly and Coffman voted against.
Carley Bonk is a Watchdog Reporter for the USA Today Network – Pennsylvania. Its coverage spans the entire region of south-central Pennsylvania. She can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter at @carls_marie.