How one person can drive change

Montgomery County’s Hatboro City Council passed an ordinance this week that ensures residents are protected from discrimination based not only on their sexual and gender identities, but also on their race, physical ability, age and religion.

The same ordinance was introduced in 2010, but was vetoed by the then-mayor, a Democrat, who said he believed equal protections were a state matter.

The ordinance lay dormant for eight years. It was reintroduced in March, and then passed on May 21.

So what happened? Nancy Guenst happened.

Ms. Guenst was elected mayor of Hatboro last November. Back in 2010, she sponsored the bill in her role as Borough Council vice president. Just a few months into her tenure as mayor, Guenst encouraged Council member Elle Anzinger to re-introduce the ordinance.

“When Mayor Guenst was campaigning, she was passionate about reintroducing the nondiscrimination bill,” Anzinger said.

While Pennsylvania lacks equal protections on a state level due to Republican obstructionism in Harrisburg, local communities are moving forward to create a momentum that, at some point, the state cannot ignore.

The numbers, on the surface, are not heartening: Only 48 municipalities in Pennsylvania out of 2,562 have equal protections. But at least three have passed in the last two months. The Human Rights Campaign is also now up and running with a multi-year project to help elect candidates from the local to the state level to pass nondiscrimination legislation.

“We’re not just here to win elections, we’re here to advance equality,” said Allison Van Kuiken, Pennsylvania State Manager for the HRC. “It is not a given that a candidate is pro-equality.”

There are a few lessons here: A Democrat is not necessarily going to support equal protections. Nondiscrimination is really about equality, not special treatment. And Guenst shows that elected officials who live their values drive change that benefits everyone.


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