EQUAL RIGHTS IN CHAMBERSBURG HAVE BEEN ELIMINATED
Our community is reeling from the removal of a LGBTQ+ inclusive local non-discrimination ordinance (NDO) and Human Relations Commission by Chambersburg Borough Council. Chambersburg is the first municipality in state history to repeal a LGBTQ-inclusive NDO.
WHY IS THIS LOCAL NDO IMPORTANT?
Learn background and understand the process
that led us to this point.
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What is at Stake?
In Chambersburg, PA, injustices are happening to LGBTQ+ and other marginalized groups. The community is grappling with the removal of a LGBTQ+ inclusive local non-discrimination ordinance (NDO) and Human Relations Commission. A majority of Borough Council (7-3) voted to repeal the law at the meeting on Monday, January 24, 2022. The Borough of Chambersburg is the first Pennsylvania municipality in state history to eliminate a LGBTQ-inclusive NDO.
The local NDO is important because it ensures equal protections against discrimination for all citizens.
The NDO's repeal effectively removed guaranteed protections for LGBTQ+ persons in matters of discrimination related to housing, employment, and public accommodation within the Borough of Chambersburg. This leaves only state law, which does not include explicit protections for discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, gender transition, and transgender. Pennsylvania is the only state in the northeast that does not have explicit statewide LGBTQ+ non-discrimination protections by law.
When the Chambersburg NDO was (briefly) in place, LGBTQ+ citizens had a law to point to if they can prove they were the victim of discrimination in matters or housing, employment, and public accommodation (including stores, restaurants, theaters and hotels). Under this law, everyone in the protected categories could utilize free mediation services from the local Human Relations Commission to have their cases heard, avoiding expensive legal fees and long wait times by going through the state process.
The Process of Adopting a NDO in Chambersburg...
In late 2020 and early 2021, a few local residents had reached out to their Chambersburg Borough Council representatives asking them to consider adopting a local NDO to extend protections to LGBTQ+ people and other classes not protected through state law (i.e. veteran status). Additionally, the Council adopted operational policies on March 8, 2021 that extended protections to employers, volunteers, elected officials and contractors associated with the Borough, but fell short of protecting all citizens.
These activities provided an opportunity for the Coalition to organize an advocacy effort in spring 2021 to ask the Borough of Chambersburg to form an exploratory committee to research a LGBTQ+ inclusive NDO. Over 500 people signed a petition and several spoke during non-agenda related public comment at a Council meeting on April 12, 2021 to ask the Council to form the committee. On April 28, the Council approved the formation of a special exploratory committee.
The exploratory committee met six times to research, gather information, and consider potential amendment(s) to local law or new ordinances to codify non-discrimination for the Borough of Chambersburg. Their work resulted in a final report submitted to Borough Council, including a proposed NDO.
Following the four month exploratory process, a LGBTQ+ inclusive NDO was passed by the majority of Borough Council on September 20, 2021. The NDO once again passed at the Council meeting on October 11, overriding the mayor’s veto which had stalled its implementation.
How Did We Get Here?
Current Threat to Equal Rights
During the November 2021 election, four new Council members were elected to the 10-person board. At its first meeting with the new and reappointed members on January 3, 2022, Council was supposed to appoint members to the new Human Relations Commission, as sanctioned by the NDO. Instead, a majority of Council voted to add the NDO to the agenda for the regular meeting on January 24. This is the timeline necessary for advertisement of a public meeting in order to amend or repeal a local ordinance.
At the January 24th meeting, after more than 2 hours of public comment with all but 6 of the nearly 100 public commenters speaking in favor of the non-discrimination ordinance AND despite councilmember Elia offering a path other than repeal that could modify the ordinance to address main concerns, the council still voted to completely repeal the ordinance. This act effectlively stripped away rights from marginalized groups that are not protected classes under the PA Human Relations Act.
Franklin County Coalition for Progress and NDO advocates strongly believe ensuring equal rights is not a partisan issue. Advocates for a Chambersburg NDO represent a variety of political parties. We agree with the statement in the exploratory committee’s report, “In our view, 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 public accommodation.”
While many community members have come together in support of this effort, unfortunately, the NDO continues to be politically leveraged by some in perpetuating harmful rhetoric and misinformation. This was no more painfully apparent than that night the council voted to repeal the NDO - along party lines 7 Republican to 3 Democrat. While equality for LGBTQ people is often cast as a divisive issue, in reality over 70% of Pennsylvanians support nondiscrimination protections for LGBT people. In fact, the majority of Republicans in Pennsylvania and the U.S. support this.
What Are the Arguments Against a NDO?
Addressing Common Concerns
We fully support critical thinking and examining an issue from all angles. This is why we first advocated for an exploratory committee to investigate whether or not a local NDO is needed for Chambersburg. So, let's take a look at the common concerns expressed to the exploratory committee and at Council meetings, and the answers to these valid concerns...
Concern: We don't need a local ordinance because the state law includes LGBTQ+ people.
Fact: Current state law does not clearly and explicitly protect LGBTQ+ individuals from discrimination. Let's take a closer look at the language. The PA Human Relations Act of 1955 declares the right to freedom from discrimination in employment, housing, and public accommodation:
"...because of race, color, familial status, religious creed, ancestry, handicap or disability, age, sex, national origin, the use of a guide or support animal because of the blindness, deafness or physical handicap of the user or because the user is a handler or trainer of support or guide animals."
Missing from the protected classes are: sex assigned at birth, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, gender transition, and transgender. Recognizing this gap, the PA Human Relations Commission issued guidance in August 2018 to interpret "sex" in the law to include sexual orientation and gender identity. However, these protections are not codified and could go away at any time. The guidance specifically says, "The guidance is neither an adjudication nor a regulation. There is no intent on the part of the Commission to give this guidance that type of binding force or effect." Essentially, this guidance is just that - guidance. It is not law, and therefore does not, legally, have to be followed. Until the state law is amended to include sexual orientation and gender identity as protected classes, the only way to ensure protection from discrimination for LGBTQ+ people is through a local non-discrimination ordinance.
Concern: What is the cost to taxpayers?
Fact: There is little or no cost to taxpayers. The Chambersburg NDO states the intent for the ordinance is to cost the Borough as close to $0 as possible. The only potential cost to the Borough would be for bringing in a solicitor to local mediation through a Chambersburg HRC as needed. Otherwise, the state PHRC would be the agency adjudicating complaints, so they would take on any associated costs. Members of a Chambersburg HRC would receive training from the state at no cost.
Concern: Does a local NDO infringe on my religious freedoms and protections?
Fact: Chambersburg's NDO does not change, in any way, the religious protections organizations and people had before the NDO was enacted. Mindful of concerns expressed throughout the exploratory process, the Chambersburg NDO includes religious exemptions of religious organizations and institutions. In addition, if individuals believe the ordinance violates their free exercise of religion, they are free to avail themselves of the protections in the Religious Freedom Protection Act.
Concern: Local businesses don't want more regulation.
Fact: The NDO does not add business regulations, since businesses are already required to obey state law for non-discrimination. The local NDO simply expands this pre-existing regulation to include two more protected classes: sexual orientation and gender identity. The Chambersburg NDO is almost identical to Gettysburg’s NDO, which was endorsed by the chamber of commerce in Adams County, their largest business advocacy group.
Concern: Was the Council's process of adopting a NDO transparent?
Fact: Public meetings provided opportunities for updates on the process and hearing public comments, in addition to using digital communication channels. Throughout the entire time Borough Council explored a local NDO (April 28 - October 11), community members had the opportunity to contact Council with their feedback and questions on the issue. Every meeting held to discuss the NDO - both Borough Council and exploratory committee - was announced and open to the public following Borough policies. The Borough even created a special email address intended just for receiving public comments and questions about a potential NDO. All of this resulted in ample engagement from community members.
Concern: Did the Chambersburg Borough Solicitor review the proposed ordinance?
Fact: The Chambersburg Borough Solicitor was part of the exploratory process and answered questions about the law. He even wrote memos and made presentations. Additionally, the exploratory committee had many legal resources to utilize as examples and provide free advice/recommendations, therefore saving costs to taxpayers (a common concern from the public). The ordinance was modeled after the Gettysburg ordinance, a model that minimized cost to the Borough. A PHRC lawyer also provided recommendations and free legal advice to improve upon the Gettysburg NDO, again saving costs.
LGBTQ+ Rights are Human Rights
Unfortunately, other arguments made by some who oppose the NDO aim to diminish the experiences of survivors who have been discriminated against in our community. We will not give power to those arguments by repeating them here, as they attempt to enforce harmful, discriminatory, transphobic, and homophobic attitudes and actions.
Instead, we will celebrate those who used their voice in the face of constant adversity. Many citizens from marginalized communities have bravely shared their personal stories over the course of numerous public meetings to help demonstrate a need for local law explicitly protecting more classes from discrimination.
To all of those who have grappled with experiences being discriminated against - whether you shared publically or handle quietly - we see you. We hear you. We can do better. We will do better. Join us in raising our voices to protect equal rights for all in Chambersburg, PA.
If you or someone you know needs LGBTQ+ affirming mental health support and/or health care, view a list of local resources at pridefranklincounty.org/lgbtq-resources.
If you or someone you know is in suicidal crisis or emotional distress, please contact one of the following crisis lines: