PA gets 20th LGBT-inclusive ordinance

With a vote by the Conshohocken Borough Council last week, Pennsylvania is now home to 20 municipalities that ban LGBT discrimination.

The council voted unanimously April 21 to approve a Human Relations Ordinance that prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in employment, housing and education. The bill was signed into law that night.

According to Council president Paul McConnell, state Rep. Mike Gerber (D-148th Dist.) contacted the council earlier this year and suggested the borough take action on the ordinance to urge the state to adopt an LGBT-inclusive nondiscrimination measure that’s been stalled for years.

McConnell, who moved to Pennsylvania from California several years ago, said he hadn’t even realized that such discrimination was still legal in the Keystone State.

“I used to live in San Francisco and when I heard this, I thought, you’ve got to be kidding me,” he said. “I just was so surprised that this is legal in Pennsylvania, and I knew we had to do what we could to fix this.”

The council modeled its measure after the recently adopted legislation in Lower Merion, although it was scaled down since Conshohocken is a much smaller municipality. The bill received unanimous approval on its first reading and again on the second and final vote last week.

McConnell said the only opposition to the bill came from a small group of out-of-towners who attended last week’s meeting.

“They weren’t from Conshohocken and have nothing to do with Conshohocken but were sent in to speak out about how, as they said, homosexuals were going to destroy the nation. And my first thought was, where are these people from? That church in Kansas?” McConnell said, noting that one of the leaders of the group admitted during the meeting that he hadn’t even read the legislation.

Among actual residents and workers in Conshohocken, however, McConnell said the bill was well-received.

“I was really happy with the number of people who came forward and thanked us for doing this and said they were glad that we brought this up. There’s been a lot of quiet support in Conshohocken. We’ve got a pretty lively progressive place here in Conshohocken, with great restaurants and bars, and all the people I’ve talked to had zero opposition to this.”

McConnell said that during discussion on the bill, a question was posed on whether LGBT animus exists in the borough.

He said that while he’s never noticed any trends of homophobia, the council decided to be proactive rather than reactive.

“A few people asked if we have a problem with this in Conshohocken and the honest answer is that I don’t know. But I don’t want to get to a point where we do,” McConnell said.

An increasing number of municipalities have taken on this issue in the past several years, as efforts to pass a statewide law continued to be stymied.

While Conshohocken is the 20th municipality to adopt such an ordinance, it’s also the seventh borough, typically much smaller than the cities and townships — which McConnell said is significant.

“For small boroughs like ourselves to be doing something about this, that should say something,” he said. “From my perspective, this is something basic that should have been done 20 years ago. We’re way behind the times and are just trying to get to the baseline of where the rest of the country is right now. And if we have enough municipalities putting this forth, we hope that the state isn’t going to have any other choice but to make it state law.”

Jen Colletta can be reached at [email protected].