Cheltenham Debates Ordinance

PA Equality President Adrian Shanker shares his thoughts

Adrian Shanker addresses college students about LGBT equality recently (courtesy of Equality PA)

As Cheltenham debates an ordinance that would prevent discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, Equality Pennsylvania President Adrian Shanker discussed the measure in front of the Public Affairs Committee of the Board of Supervisors recently. This comes after Susquehanna Township passed a similar measure this month – the 26th municipality in the state to do so.

Here’s what Shanker had to say:

The reality is that local governments get things done, and local governments throughout Pennsylvania have jumped at the opportunity to be the leaders that our state and federal legislature has not been, by passing common-sense, rational, good-government legislation that says, in no uncertain terms, that discrimination against anyone – including LGBT people – is simply unwelcome in your community. That discrimination is not a value of this community. And that people who live, work and visit Cheltenham will be afforded equality and an expectation of non-discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodation.

In our opinion, this is both basic and non-controversial. Both legally sound and publicly supported. A vast majority of Pennsylvanian’s, to the tune of 70 percent, support LGBT-inclusive non-discrimination laws. This is not a partisan issue, nor is it only an issue only effecting one community. The prime sponsor of mirror legislation in the Pennsylvania Senate is Senator Browne, not only a Republican, but a member in leadership. And this legislation, on the local and state levels have been supported by a strong, broad coalition of faith, civil rights and labor organizations, including the Pennsylvania AARP, ACLU, Planned Parenthood, and Interfaith Alliance chapters, the Service Employees International Union, United Food and Commercial Workers and many more.

This legislation is also a benefit for small businesses in Cheltenham. Most small business owners are interested in having issues resolved locally by Cheltenham – not by Harrisburg. This ordinance will create that opportunity, by creating a local process to provide recourse for instances of discrimination in Cheltenham. And instances of discrimination most certainly occur here, as they do everywhere. But let’s remember that this ordinance will not stop discrimination. It will allow people who are discriminated against in Cheltenham to have recourse when they are discriminated against. But your action in passing this law will send a clear message to anyone who wishes to discriminate against others that they should not do so in Cheltenham.

This is your opportunity to lead where our state legislature has not. As I speak in different venues throughout Pennsylvania, people are often surprised to learn that discriminating against LGBT people is completely legal in all but 25 municipalities; that a person could be denied an apartment, fired from their job or denied access to a heterosexuals-only water fountain – simply because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

It is not often that a local elected official has the opportunity to pass a law with this type of civil rights impact, an impact that will be seen and heard in Harrisburg and across the state, but most importantly, an impact applauded by your constituents, people who live and work in Cheltenham Township.

Equality Pennsylvania, and I personally, are happy to serve as a resource. I have worked on this legislation in other municipalities and am more than happy to answer any questions you may have, either during this meeting, or in the coming days before your final vote to protect all your residents from undue discrimination.

Adrian Shanker is the president of Equality Pennsylvania, an LGBT advocacy group in the commonwealth.