Norristown passes LGBT ordinance

Norristown’s borough council passed an LGBT-inclusive civil-rights ordinance July 3, but not all its residents are pleased about it.

The ordinance creates a five-member human-relations commission to mediate antibias complaints that can be filed under a host of categories, including sexual orientation and gender identity.

The human-relations commission won’t have authority to determine whether illegal discrimination occurred in the borough, but if mediation isn’t successful, an aggrieved party can file a civil action for remedies in Montgomery County Common Pleas Court.

LGBT advocates in Norristown have been pushing for the ordinance on and off for the last 15 years, but were repeatedly stymied by opponents.

Norristown, the county seat of Montgomery County with around 34,000 residents, is one of at least 50 municipalities in Pennsylvania that have enacted LGBT ordinances. Nearby towns that recently passed similar ordinances include Ambler, West Conshohocken, Hatboro and Plymouth. Lansdale and West Norriton are in the process of passing the same legislation.

Daniel J. Wissert, a lifelong resident of Norristown, organized a small demonstration outside the Montgomery County Court House on July 13. Demonstrators didn’t specifically oppose passage of the human-rights ordinance, but they advocated for changes in the way Norristown’s governing body operates.

Wissert, 39, said numerous issues aren’t being addressed effectively by the borough council, including public safety, code enforcement, job creation, education, infrastructure upgrades and transparency.

“If borough council took care of those problems, everyone would benefit, including the LGBT community,” Wissert told PGN. “But they don’t care about the LGBT community. They’re just trying to get votes.”

Wissert said proper enforcement of existing laws would improve living and working conditions in the borough. “Do a better job of enforcing the laws already on the books, which protect all Americans,” he added. “The council doesn’t listen to the people. They do what they want.”

Councilwoman Olivia Brady said she cares about human rights. “This ordinance puts out a welcome mat in front of the borough to let everyone know they’re welcome,” Brady told PGN.  “And if they’re not treated fairly, there’s a process in place to remedy the situation.”

Council President Sonya Sanders echoed Brady’s sentiments. “There are very tremendous things moving Norristown forward and this human-rights ordinance is just one piece [of it],” Sanders told PGN. “I’m optimistic the ordinance will be well-received. Norristown is a diversified community. We live and breathe inclusion and diversity.”

“We took an oath to represent all of the people,” added Councilman Derrick Perry. “This ordinance puts us in synchronization with our oath. An oath is a very serious thing.”

Wissert said he supports the LGBT community and may apply to serve on the new human-relations commission. He said his service could help ensure that everyone in the borough is treated fairly, including veterans.

Patrick Druhan, executive director of Montco Hunger Solutions, commended council members for passing the ordinance. “This cake took 15 years to bake,” Druhan quipped, adding that he disagrees with criticism that council isn’t properly prioritizing issues.

“Council [members] can chew gum and walk at the same time,” he said. “People can deal with more than one issue at a time. It’s just wrong to insist that all issues get ranked and prioritized, because the ranking always tends to be a means of pushing the issue you don’t like to the end of the line.”

Anthony A. Maturano, a board member of the Montgomery County LGBT Business Council, also praised the ordinance’s passage. “This ordinance helps those who do business in Norristown create a culture that encourages diversity and protection for employees from discrimination,” Maturano wrote in a July 13 email. “It will also attract a larger pool of employers, employees and customers. The LGBT community is loyal to those who embrace our culture, and businesses benefit from that loyalty.”