The Reading City Council voted 6-1 on Sept. 28 to approve a nondiscrimination ordinance that extends protections to LGBT individuals in employment, credit, housing and public accommodations. Reading Mayor Thomas McMahon signed the bill into law that day, making Reading the 16th jurisdiction in the commonwealth to ban LGBT discrimination.
Councilman Steve Fuhs was the only member to oppose the legislation.
Councilwoman Maria Baez introduced and spearheaded the legislation, which she said was a response to the needs of her constituents.
“I had a conversation about this with residents and then just got it rolling,” Baez said. “It’s a very important issue to me because a lot of people say that [being gay] is a way of life and something that people choose, but for me I don’t think this is about how you choose to live, it’s about people’s basic civil rights. I’m very glad that it was passed; it was a great accomplishment.”
Ernie Schlegel, who lives in Baez’s district, was one of the residents who brought the issue to her, and he later worked closely with the rest of city council and area LGBT organizations, in addition to contacting Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission chair Steve Glassman.
Glassman noted the vote was nearly two-and-a-half years in the making and said council’s adoption of the ordinance represents “a giant leap forward into the 21st century.”
“It’s very exciting that Reading has caught up with other municipalities in Pennsylvania that have already recognized the importance of the LGBT community and its contributions throughout the state,” Glassman said.
“With the Reading Council’s vote, another municipality stood up for basic fairness and equality for all of its citizens,” added Lynn Zeitlin, executive director of Equality Advocates Pennsylvania.
Schlegel said the bill was in danger of being tabled shortly before the vote, as there was some question among councilmembers about the law’s implications on the use of restrooms by transgender individuals, but he said Glassman addressed council and provided further education about the issue.
Both Baez and Glassman said they saw little opposition from Reading residents to the legislation; Glassman said he hopes this signifies to the state legislature that Pennsylvania is ready for a statewide nondiscrimination law that is inclusive of the LGBT community.
“We certainly hope that as our representatives see more and more local jurisdictions recognizing the value of protecting the rights of all Pennsylvanians, that House Bill 300 will move more rapidly through the legislature,” Glassman said.
HB 300, which would ban sexual orientation and gender-identity discrimination in all Pennsylvania municipalities, is currently in the House Appropriations Committee.
Zeitlin noted that Reading is the second jurisdiction in the state to pass an LGBT-inclusive nondiscrimination ordinance in the past three months — Allegheny County did so in July — which could provide added encouragement to the state legislature to follow suit.
“We are hoping to leverage this exciting momentum toward equality into the passage of statewide nondiscrimination protections for all people,” she said.
Schlegel, who collected 150 signatures of area residents on a petition he presented to council earlier this month, said he would have liked to have seen more LGBT residents take on a leadership role on the Reading bill.He added that advocacy from everyday LGBT individuals will be integral to the passage of the statewide ordinance.
“The gay community has to get involved. We have to come out and show support,” he said. “If we don’t, it’s not going to happen. We should be going to Harrisburg and demanding this from our legislators, telling them that we need to get this passed, that we’re important.”
Jen Colletta can be reached at email@example.com.